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Expert testifies voice on 911 tape is not that of confessed killer in case of Black Panther leader Ed Poindexter

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It was 1970 all over again.  The Omaha World-Herald had returned to a Douglas County courtroom to once again cover the story that dominated its headlines on a hot, angry summer so many years ago.

 

The bombing murder of Omaha police officer Larry Minard, a father of five, shook the city and capped a tense, hot summer that had been emotionally charged by the shooting of a black fourteen year-old girl, Vivian Strong, in the back by police the year before.  Racial tensions in the Midwestern city were at fever pitch with Omaha's chapter of the Black Panthers, the National Committee to Combat Fascism, (NCCF) leading the criticism of the police.

 

Poindexter was Chairman and David Rice, now Mondo we Langa, was Minister of Information.  The two men were the most vocal and both took to calling police officers "pigs" at every opportunity.  In July, a month before the murder of Minard, the Omaha Police searched the NCCF headquarters for dynamite but found nothing.

 

The 911 tape, made from an emergency line phone call, actually predated 911 technology and was not made to a three digit phone number but is still generally referred to as the 911 tape.  The original recording, never used at Poindexter & Langa's trial, was withheld and ended up missing.  However, a copy of the tape later resurfaced as did a secret FBI memo about the tape.

 

Poindexter and Langa were targets of COINTELPRO, a dirty-tricks operation of the FBI used against members of the Black Panthers and other radical groups.  The FBI memo warned, "Any use of tape of this call might be prejudicial to the police murder trial."  The voice on the tape does not sound like that of 15 year-old Duane Peak, the confessed bomber.  Peak claimed that he placed the bomb and made the 911 call but that Poindexter and Langa built the bomb.

 

Poindexter took the stand in the second day of his hearing seeking a new trial.  Poindexter stated that he didn't know Peak well, a young member of the NCCF, but had expelled him from the group for shooting at a bird in the NCCF office and for stealing a gun from an Omaha Police cruiser.  "I was mortified," Poindexter testified.

 

Supporters for Poindexter and Langa filled two rows of seats in the courtroom, one wearing a shirt picturing the two inmates with the words, "Nebraska's Political Prisoners".  Sitting immediatedly behind Poindexter was John Tess, the retired partner of Larry Minard.  Tess had been injured in the explosion and does not believe that Poindexter was falsely implicated by Peak who had obtained a deal from prosecutors to be sentenced as a juvenile in exchange for testimony against Poindexter and Langa.

 

Tess raised his finger at Poindexter and taunted him, "Life without parole."  Meanwhile, Minard's daughter, Charlotte Hyland quietly sobbed.  Thirty-six years had not stilled the rage nor quieted the sorrow.

 

Vocal analyst Tom Owen, an expert brought in from New Jersey, studied the tape and contrasted it with a voice sample of Peak, obtained by court order last year.  Owen testified that the two voices were from different people, Peak had not made the 911 call as he claimed.

 

Poindexter then heard for the first time in a courtroom the recording that triggered events that led to his imprisonment.  Owen played the tape in eight word segments, along with matching samples from Peak.  Prosecutors maintain that Peak disguised his voice to explain the discrepancies between the two voices.  Also, the authenticity of the 911 tape has not been stipulated to and the judge will have to decide to allow the tape as well as Owen's testimony into the record.

 A decision is not expected until June following further testimony later in the month.  Until then Poindexter will return to the Nebraska State Penitentiary to continue his long wait for a new trial while his accusor, the confessed killer, is free.

 

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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