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Omaha Police detective's "evidence" in Black Panther murder case disappeared without a trace raising perjury question

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The tragic bombing murder of Omaha Police patrolman Larry Minard on August 17, 1970 triggered a series of events, monitored  by J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that led to the ultimate release of Minard's confessed killer, Duane Peak, after several years of juvenile detention. 

Peak's brokered testimony, which bought his freedom, implicated two leaders of Omaha's Black Panther chapter, the National Committee to Combat Fascism.  Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, formerly David Rice, had been under surveillance by Hoover's secret, and illegal, COINTELPRO operation designed to "disrupt" the Black Panthers, were named by Peak as his co-conspirators.  Both Poindexter and Langa were convicted of murder and  are incarcerated at the maximum security Nebraska State Penitentiary serving life sentences.  Both men deny any involvement in the crime.


Although Peak was the prosecution's murderous star witness, the testimony of Omaha detective Robert Pheffer was also critical to the case as he corroborated the account of detective Jack Swanson's claim to have found dynamite in Langa's basement at the trial.  Pheffer has since contradicted his own trial testimony and now claims, under oath, that he found the dynamite raising a question of perjury, either at the trial or at a May 2007 hearing before Douglas County District Court Judge Russell Bowie who was considering a new trial request by Poindexter.


When confronted by Poindexter's attorney, Robert Barle, over the discrepancy between his 1971 testimony at trial and his 2007 sworn testimony before Bowie, Pheffer became noticeably flustered and denied his own trial testimony claiming "the court reporter, somebody got it wrong."


Dynamite never appeared in any evidence photos of Langa's house and only first shows up in the trunk of a police squad car in any photograph.


Pheffer's new claim to have found the dynamite brings into question other "evidence" discovered by the Omaha detective in the course of the investigation.  Pheffer has testified to the discovery of other bomb-making supplies at two locations--claims not supported by the trial record or any police reports.  Thus, the question of Pheffer's credibility hinges on whether or not police destroyed or hid evidence of bomb-making equipment, allegedly found by Pheffer, at two different search locations.


At Langa's house, where Pheffer now claims he found dynamite in the basement, Pheffer testified to Judge Bowie that he also found in a bedroom closet three gray Samsonite attaché cases with wires sticking out of them.  Pheffer claims after finding the three attaché cases a rope was passed through the handles and "lead it out the bedroom through the front room, outside the steps" where the cases were opened when they did not detonate.  Pheffer's dramatic discovery of the wired attaché cases was not mentioned at trial nor were the purported bomb parts introduced as evidence.  Pheffer didn't even bother to enter the attache cases into the inventory list of the search.  Nor did any other officer.  In fact, Pheffer is the sole witness to the "evidence" he now claims to have found that somehow disappeared without a trace.


At NCCF headquarters, in a search the same day,  Pheffer found more "evidence" with another attaché case with wires.  Pheffer did testify about that purported discovery in 1971.  Pheffer testified he found, "an attache case in the front room with wires and a clothespin attached to it."  Yet once again, Pheffer failed to log in the attaché case or even record it on the search inventory list.  No other officers filed reports or testified about the case and it was not produced at trial as evidence despite Pheffer's claims.

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From the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln writes Ed Poindexter, "Robert Pheffer said at our trial that when he and company raided NCCF on 24th Street that he saw several unarmed suitcase bombs in various stages of development….Pheffer was lying right in front of the jury."


"Needless to say, said bomb finding did not exist on the record; that is, they were not on the inventory list of items confiscated from HQ, and no one else appeared to have seen them, and of course they did not exist in evidence.  Yet he went totally unchallenged in the courtroom when he blurted this out."


"I've been harping on this for umpteen years, but for some reason, no one likes to talk about it."


In a recent prison interview Langa commented on Pheffer's conflicting testimony, "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 have been a good thing to have these kept like on top of the stove to be consistent with this kind of absurdity.  But it was a make."

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FBI agents assigned to COINTELPRO worked closely with Omaha Police investigating the Black Panthers.  One of the techniques common to COINTELPRO operations was creating false documents and making false statements to "disrupt" the Panthers.


Judge Bowie ruled Pheffer's contradictory dynamite testimony did not matter and did not address the four attaché cases with wires that have vanished which Pheffer claims to have found at two locations when he denied Poindexter's bid for a new trial in September.


Now the Nebraska Supreme Court must grapple with Pheffer's contradictory testimony and his missing "evidence" which has left gaping holes in the case against the two imprisoned Black Panthers.  A date for the decision in Poindexter's appeal has not been set.

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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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