Ed Poindexter will once again be transported from his prison cell at the Nebraska State Penitentiary to the Douglas County Courthouse to witness another day of testimony in his effort to obtain a new trial for the 1970 murder of Omaha policeman Larry Minard.
Minard was the victim of a homemade suitcase bomb designed to kill police responding to an emergency call about a woman screaming in a vacant house. Poindexter was the head of a Black Panther spin-off group called the National Committee to Combat Fascism (NCCF) and engaged in a war of words with police. Omaha was an emotionally-charged city following the killing of 14 year-old Vivian Strong by police a year earlier and Poindexter had emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the shooting death.
Although police arrested 15 year-old Duane Peak, who confessed to the bombing, in a weeklong dragnet that rounded up dozens of people for questioning and ended up with the arrests of 14 persons, the two men the police were most interested in were Poindexter and David Rice. Rice, NCCF Minister of Information, has since changed his name and is now Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa.
Convicted in 1971 for the bombing murder, the two NCCF leaders have been in prison serving life sentences. Peak, who obtained a deal that got him sentenced as a juvenile, testified against Poindexter and Langa. Peak alleged the pair made the bomb he planted in the vacant house. Peak also claimed he made the emergency call that lured police into the deadly trap.
Earlier this month vocal analyst Tom Owen testified that Peak did not make the call after studying a copy of the emergency call. The original tape was never used at trial and ended up missing. However, a duplicate tape later surfaced as did a secret FBI memo warning the tape would hurt the prosecution's case. When Owen played the tape earlier this month, the voice that chilled the courtroom did not sound like Peak's voice.
The FBI was involved in the case soon after the explosion. An illegal FBI operation called COINTELPRO was underway across the nation targeted at the Black Panthers and other groups. FBI memos, released under Freedom of Information requests, reveal a close involvement in building the case against Poindexter and Langa. COINTELPRO agents, the public would later learn, assisted local police in obtaining convictions encouraging withholding of evidence, witness manipulation, and other illegal activities.
The two Omaha investigators most responsible for the arrest of Poindexter and Langa are Jack Swanson and Robert Pheffer,
Swanson, now deceased, made up a list of 39 members of the NCCF for the police dragnet. Swanson was on hand when it was time to search Langa's house for Duane Peak, then at large. At the trial Swanson was the one who found dynamite in the basement and carried it upstairs to a waiting car trunk. The car trunk is the first place an official crime scene photograph pictures the dynamite. Swanson also gave a curious BBC interview in the early 1990's where he said he felt he still did the right thing in 1970 and that the arrest of Poindexter and Langa ended the Black Panthers in Omaha.
Pheffer, now retired, testified at the trial that he saw Swanson carry the dynamite out of the basement. However, earlier this month Pheffer contradicted his own trial testimony and claimed he found the dynamite not Swanson. Pheffer, visibly agitated during cross examination, not only changed his story but added to it with considerable new information. Pheffer now claims he also found three suitcases with wires in Langa's house. The suitcases now claimed to have been found by Pheffer were never introduced at trial, never mentioned in any police report at the time, and were not listed on a police inventory of the house following the search.
Peak's juvenile sentencing deal, the voice discrepancy on the emergency tape and the conflicting dynamite testimony of detective Pheffer, in combination with known COINTELPRO tactics, all raise serious questions about the guilt of the convicted men who have steadfastly maintained their innocence.
After more testimony next week, Judge Russell Bowie will decide on Poindexter's request for a new trial. Langa's conviction was overturned by both a federal district court and appellate court. However, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the case returned to Nebraska courts where the Nebraska Supreme Court said Langa's appeal time lapsed while the case was in federal court.