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Prison Interview: Black Panther Mondo we Langa talks about dynamite "found" at his home

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Imprisoned Black Panther Mondo we Langa, formerly David Rice, was recently interviewed at the Nebraska State Penitentiary where he is serving a life sentence for the bombing murder of Omaha Police officer Larry Minard in 1970. 

Langa, and co-defendant Ed Poindexter, also imprisoned for life, were officers in the Black Panther group National Committee to Combat Fascism when police were lured to a booby-trapped vacant house in August 1970.  Langa and Poindexter were also targets of the FBI's secret and illegal COINTELPRO operation against the Black Panthers which had been working with Omaha police.

After a week-long sweep of Omaha's north side and over a dozen arrests, police finally identified 15 year-old Duane Peak as the bomber.  Peak, who got a deal from prosecutors and only served a brief sentence as a juvenile, claimed the bomb was constructed at Langa's house and Poindexter gave him instructions.  Both Langa and Poindexter deny any involvement in the killing. 

The primary evidence against the two Panthers was Peak's brokered testimony and dynamite allegedly found in Langa's basement.  Douglas County District Court Judge Russell Bowie heard testimony in May 2007 about the dynamite from retired detective Robert Pheffer who contradicted his own trial testimony about the dynamite.

 

At the 1971 murder trial, detective Jack Swanson testified he found dynamite in a coal bin in the basement of Langa's house and was backed up by detective Pheffer who testified he first saw the dynamite when Swanson carried it up the stairs.  In 2007, Pheffer changed his story and claimed under oath he found the dynamite not Swanson.  Crime scene evidence technicians took photos of the basement but no dynamite is present.  The first evidence photos that picture dynamite are of the trunk of a police squad car.

 

Incredibly, despite the contradictory police testimony Judge Bowie ruled it didn't matter who found the dynamite.  "Other than the conflicting reports about who found the dynamite in Rice's basement, there is no evidence to suggest that the dynamite was planted by police.  The bottom line is that dynamite was found in Rice's basement, who found it is immaterial."

 

From the prison where he has been confined for 36 years, Langa talks about the dynamite testimony.

 

"Swanson says when he and the other cops showed up at the house the door was open and the lights were on.  I don't really have a clue yet exactly what happened, but apparently what happened is police went through the house but they did not have a search warrant, that we know, they did not have a search warrant, what they had was an arrest warrant for Duane Peak."

 

"Aside from the fact he was in the party or associated with it, they had no reason to look in my house for Duane Peak.  Duane Peak was 15 years old.  He wasn't someone I hung with.  So what they did, according to police testimony, is that some of them remained at the house to secure it.  Some cops stayed at the house and secured it while others went to Judge Simon A. Simon's house.  They went with an affidavit to have him sign a search warrant."

 

"It is interesting to say the least that the police say we found dynamite in the basement next to the furnace.  But they took a picture, they took a photograph of my basement.  There is no dynamite in the photograph.  But they also took a photograph of a box of dynamite in the trunk of a police cruiser.  They took a photo of my basement and they claimed there is dynamite there, why not have a photo of the dynamite in the basement?"

 

In 1974, at an evidentiary hearing in federal court reviewing the search warrant, the Omaha Police once again took the stand to talk about finding the dynamite.  U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom ruled the search warrant was invalid but was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

"I don't remember which cops, I'm sure Pheffer was one of them, but there were about, as I recall, about three of them who were questioned about this dynamite.  I noticed the first cop was presented with a photo of my basement.  He is asked to identify where he is supposed to have found this box of dynamite.  So he has the photo before him and he is going like this and that [gesturing] probably trying to jog his memory.  Urbom notices it and hands him a pen and says, "Mark the specific spot in the photo where you found dynamite."  So he looks at it some more and takes the pen and marks a spot.  They are done with him, next cop comes up and he is asked the same thing."

 

"Same photo.  He is looking, finally he points to the spot that the first cop made a little box.  Same thing with one or two more cops.  Same thing.  They all eventually point to the marked in box.  I'm saying to myself something weird is going on around here.  Because my belief was that there were two ways that things could have come down.  Actually, three.  One, the business about my house being open and somebody had planted the dynamite.  That was one, but the one that made more sense to me was there was no dynamite there in the first place.  And the other being, with all this cloak and dagger stuff [COINTELPRO tactics] they actually brought a box.  See, because other people had been arrested in a car with dynamite, I'm thinking about a month before the bombing."

 

"I'm thinking maybe that they had brought dynamite to the house.  Those are the possibilities I was thinking about.  Anyway, we are in Urbom's court and I'm watching this thing about the photo.  There was a recess so I asked Herzog [defense attorney] "Man, let me see that photo."  I looked at the photo and I'll be damned.  It is a photo of my basement, but whoever took the photo took the photo of my basement lengthwise walking down the kitchen steps.  It is an unfinished basement, there may have been a concrete wall and the other walls were dirt.  And the photograph shows the one wall where I had my target up there, my target practice range.  Even showed the target with the bullet holes in it.  It is against kind of a dirt bank.  So if you walk down the steps, these are steps right there [gesturing], the basement is kind of like this.  There is a little area where my target was.  When you get to the bottom of the steps, whoever took the photo that way.  When it just so happens that the coal bin where the police testified they found the dynamite is over here, cut into the wall.  It is not even in the photo, it's not in the photo.  So, even though I couldn't prove the police planted the dynamite or that it wasn't there in the first place, it was obvious their testimony was perjured because even if they were telling…if they say the dynamite was in the coal bin and they identify a place in the basement that the coal bin isn't in, I mean that is perjured testimony.  I can't prove that they planted the dynamite but it is obvious the suckers are lying.

 

"So we come up to the present and here is Pheffer talking about we found a box of dynamite in David Rice's house facing next to the furnace.  I'm thinking about this.  Well, if a person was going to keep his dynamite next to the furnace and I imagine it is to keep it warm then it would also make sense that if there were blasting caps in the house then it would probably would been a good thing to have these kept like on top of the stove to be consistent with this kind of absurdity."

"There are all kinds of things about the case that are really pretty basic and pretty outrageous that are part of the record that people don't know about."

 

Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.
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Hi Michael,  I enjoyed the interview on this ... by Hans Bennett on Friday, Jan 18, 2008 at 8:15:43 PM