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Dynamite supplier for bomb that killed Omaha policeman walked free in COINTELPRO case against Black Panthers

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The investigation into the tragic bombing murder of Omaha Police patrolman Larry Minard on August 17, 1970, which led to the conviction and lifetime imprisonment of two Black Panther leaders, was marred by false police statements, withheld evidence and ended with the named supplier of the fatal explosives going unpunished.

 

The two convicted Panthers, Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice), were leaders of the Omaha chapter of the National Committee to Combat Fascism and both were targets of J. Edgar Hoover's secret and illegal Federal Bureau of Investigation operation, code-named COINTELPRO, which was ordered to "disrupt" the Black Panthers.

 

Poindexter and Langa, who deny any involvement in the crime, were implicated by 15 year-old Duane Peak, the confessed bomber.  Peak obtained his freedom with brokered testimony against the Panther leaders and served less than three years in juvenile detention for the murder of Larry Minard.

 

Although Peak gave police a half-dozen different versions of the crime before naming Poindexter and Langa, the young killer stated he obtained the dynamite for his suitcase bomb from another Panther, Raleigh House.  Peak testified at his preliminary hearing that he obtained the explosives from House, repeated the claim during his deposition, and testified at the 1971 murder trial that House supplied the dynamite for the bomb. 

 

Officer Minard was killed and seven other Omaha policemen were injured when they responded to an emergency call about a woman screaming in a vacant house.  A booby-trapped suitcase at the scene exploded when Minard examined it killing him instantly.

 

Federal agents and Omaha police had recruited informants within the Black Panther group as part of the campaign to disrupt the organization and had a lengthy list of suspects when they began a sweep of Omaha's Near-Northside in the days following Minard's murder.

 

At least 60 people were brought in for questioning and over a dozen were arrested on various charges while the police searched for Peak.  On August 23, 1970, the police arrested Raleigh House, a former "lieutenant of information" of the Omaha Black Panther chapter, and, according to the Omaha World-Herald, charged him with suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder.  House was jailed with a $10,000 bond placed on him.  After House's arrest, Assistant Chief of Police Glenn Gates told the newspaper that naming suspects had made, "every member of the Police Division extremely glad."  Gates called Minard "a brother officer" whose death "does strike fear into the heart of officers on the street."

 

Gates would later ask the FBI to cancel a voice analysis of the emergency call tape that lured Minard to his death.  The emergency call was allegedly made by Peak.  According to a secret COINTELPRO memo that surfaced years later from the Omaha FBI Special-Agent-in-charge to J. Edgar Hoover, Gates explained the tape would be "prejudicial" to the prosecution.  In 2007, voice analyst Tom Owen testified in an Omaha courtroom that to a high degree of probability the voice was not that of Peak--leaving an unidentified accomplice on the loose.

 

Mysteriously, out of the 13 people arrested while Peak was still at large during the first weekend following the bombing, one suspect was released after just one day in jail, Raleigh House.  Even more unusual was that House did not have to post $10,000 bail, instead he was released on a signature bond.  Police told the Omaha World-Herald that House was freed under the authorization of Chief Deputy County Attorney Arthur O'Leary who refused to comment on House's release.

 

After Peak was arrested and questioned, he implicated House as the source of the dynamite.  At his preliminary hearing in open court, Peak testified Raleigh House drove him to House's residence where House picked up a suitcase full of dynamite and gave it to him. 

 

Peak persisted in his deposition and again at the murder trial that House supplied the dynamite that took Minard's life.  However, House, who had been released on his own recognizance, was never formally charged for providing the explosives according to Douglas County District Court records.

 

Two months after the bombing, and just days after Peak's preliminary hearing where Peak fingered House, Omaha Police Captain Murdock Platner traveled to Washington, D.C. and gave a false statement under oath to the U.S. House Committee on Internal Security about the source of the dynamite.  Platner falsely testified, "In the preliminary hearing he [Peak] testified that David Rice [Langa] brought a suitcase filled with dynamite to his house or to somebody's house, I'm not for sure just which place."

 

From the Nebraska State Penitentiary where Poindexter is serving a life sentence for a crime he denies, the imprisoned Panther leader has an explanation. "Raleigh House was implicated by Duane Peak, but the state did not pursue it because they were after only Mondo and myself, the so-called ring leaders.  Selective prosecution is the term for that….they got who they were after."

 

Poindexter has been seeking a new trial because of evidence withheld from the original jury and contradictory testimony of police witnesses.  Additionally, the role of the FBI in the case and the abuses of justice under Hoover's COINTELPRO operation were not known until long after the original trial was over.  The matter is now pending before the Nebraska Supreme Court where no date has been set for a decision.

 Permission granted to reprint

 

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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