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Nebraska murder case may be reopened for imprisoned Black Panther leader

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After thirty-six years in prison of a life sentence, Ed Poindexter may get a new trial.  Convicted along with Mondo we Langa, formerly David Rice, for the 1970 murder of Omaha police officer Larry Minard, the two former leaders of the Nebraska chapter of the National Committee to Combat Fascism, a Black Panther spin-off, have maintained their innocence.


On August 17, 1970, eight police officers responded to a call about a woman screaming in a vacant building.  Instead of a rape victim the officers found a suitcase bomb that exploded demolishing the house and killing officer Minard, a father of five.


Police began a sweep of Omaha's near-North side where the bombing occurred and quickly focused their investigation on members of the NCCF who had been waging a war of words with local police for months over allegations of police brutality.


A fifteen year-old, Duane Peak, was charged with planting the bomb and admitted doing so claiming that Poindexter and Langa had built the bomb and put him up to it.  Peak would end up giving eight different statements while in police custody, only one of which implicated the two NCCF leaders.  Peak pleaded guilty, cooperated in the prosecution of Poindexter and Langa, and was sentenced as a juvenile gaining his freedom after half a decade.


Peak alleged that he made the 911 call to police headquarters, a tape not introduced in evidence.  Years later both the tape and a FBI memo about the tape surfaced indicating that the evidence had been withheld because it would damage the prosecution's case--the voice does not appear to be that of Peak.


Langa, who took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied a retrial on procedural grounds and remains imprisoned in the Nebraska Correctional Center in Lincoln where he has been a model prisoner.  Poindexter, sent to prison in Minnesota to separate the two, has also been a model prisoner but did not exhaust his appeal rights, which gives him a chance at a new trial.  A hearing will be held in May to determine if a forensic analysis of the 911 tape warrants a reopening of the case.


Dynamite was allegedly found by police at Langa's home, several blocks from the bombing.  However, contradictory reports about who actually found the dynamite have been made by police over the years and no crime scene photographs were taken of the dynamite in Langa's home.


In 1992 a BBC documentary was made about the case and Amnesty International USA has taken up the plight of the two prisoners.  A group, Nebraskans for Justice, has been working for several years to gain the pair a new trial.  Freedom of Information requests have revealed that Poindexter and Langa were targets of the FBI's controversial COINTELPRO operation leading to speculation by some that police framed the pair.  Others, who support the claims of innocence, believe that they were framed by other members of the NCCF, such as Peak's two older cousins who were both beaten by police prior to the bombing.


Public sympathy for Larry Minard and his family continues to run strong and the Nebraska Parole Board has refused to grant parole, despite recommendations for parole from corrections officials.  Many consider Poindexter and Langa to be political prisoners, imprisoned not for their guilt but their outspoken beliefs.


Poindexter's trial attorney was former Nebraska Governor Frank Morrison, then Douglas County Public Defender.  Morrision would write in 1997, before his death, that he believed in the innocence of Poindexter.


"As a citizen, a former prosecutor, and Governor of this state, I abhor, detest and condemn the cowardly, cruel and unjustified murder of officer Minard.  My heart aches for his family.  The guilty parties should pay the penalty.  The self-confessed murderer was turned loose after a slap on the wrist."


"I now believe and always have believed that the true role of law enforcement is truth.  Real justice can only be built on truth.  I hope the Congress and other policy makers will reestablish this policy.  I feel both I and the system failed Ed Poindexter."

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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer living in Belize. Richardson writes about Taiwan foreign policy, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Black Panther Party. Richardson was Ralph Nader's ballot access manager during the 2004 and (more...)

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