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Imprisoned Black Panther Ed Poindexter was absent from his day in court

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Ed Poindexter missed his day in court.  Confined to a maximum security cell in the Nebraska State Penitentiary, the former Black Panther leader was absent from his day in court.  Poindexter's court date was scheduled in the austere but stately Supreme Court chambers on the second floor of the Nebraska State Capitol a few miles away from the prison where he is serving a life sentence. 

Poindexter was convicted in April 1971, along with Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice), for the 1970 bombing murder of Omaha police officer Larry Minard.  Officer Minard and the seven other police had been lured to a lethal trap by a bogus call about a woman screaming in a vacant building.  Instead of finding a crime victim, the police triggered a bomb-rigged suitcase killing Minard and injuring the others.


Sentenced to life imprisonment, Poindexter has not been eligible for parole and remains incarcerated 37 years after his conviction, along with Mondo we Langa who suffered a similar fate.  Poindexter earlier asked the Nebraska Board of Pardons to reduce his sentence to a number of years to make him eligible for parole.  Finding no support for his request, Poindexter filed a pro se appeal in Lancaster County District Court in 2006 seeking a determinate sentence.


Poindexter's legal pleading before the Nebraska Supreme Court argued that the merits of his claim should be heard in spite of the fact he is not a "skilled, school-trained attorney".  The Supreme Court has not had a prisoner personally appear before them for 30 years so Poindexter did not bother making a request to be present.  However, Poindexter did ask the court to consider his claim on the basis of written submissions.


Despite Poindexter's request for no oral argument, Assistant Attorney General Linda Willard was on hand to tell the state high court that there was no merit to Poindexter's appeal.  According to the Omaha World-Herald, Justice William Connolly asked if changes in parole rules could be retroactively imposed on prisoners.  Willard replied, "Things were done differently in those days."


The Federal Bureau of Investigation immediately assisted Omaha detectives investigating the bombing and worked the case closely.  However, the FBI was not there to solve the crime.  The FBI gave tainted help instead of a search for truth.  The Omaha FBI office had secret orders from Director J. Edgar Hoover to "disrupt" the Black Panthers under a covert and clandestine operation code-named COINTELPRO.  William Sullivan, Hoover's second in command, was the chief architect of COINTELPRO and funneled field reports to Hoover on a daily basis.  Sullivan would later admit to Congress that "no holds were barred" in the COINTELPRO operation.


Police identified a 15 year-old, Duane Peak, as the bomber.  Peak in turn implicated a 23 year-old Black Panther member, Raleigh House, as the supplier of the dynamite.  A copy of the fatal emergency call that lured Minard to his death was sent to FBI headquarters to analyze the middle-aged male voice on the tape in an attempt to identify the unknown caller.


However, J. Edgar Hoover was not interested in 15 year-old killers, Hoover wanted to put the Black Panthers out of business.  Peak was repeatedly interrogated over a series of days and eventually claimed that Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, who were officers in Omaha's Black Panther chapter called the National Committee to Combat Fascism, were behind the deadly plot.


There were problems with Peak's confession and version of events that prosecutors took to the jury.  Deals were struck and decisions were made to tighten the noose around Poindexter and Langa.  As a result, Peak, who planted the bomb, received less than three years in juvenile detention and then walked free.  House, the supplier of the dynamite, served one night in jail and walked free.  The middle-aged unknown caller never was identified and has never been charged.


On October 13, 1970, a secret COINTELPRO memo from the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Omaha FBI office to J. Edgar Hoover in Washington, D.C. requested the voice analysis of the emergency call tape recording be stopped.  "Assistant COP GLENN GATES, Omaha PD, advised that he feels that any uses of this call might be prejudicial to the police murder trial against the two accomplices of PEAK and, therefore, has advised that he wishes no use of this tape until after the murder trials of Peak and the two accomplices has been completed."


Two Omaha detectives, Jack Swanson and Robert Pheffer, gave conflicting testimony over dynamite allegedly found in Langa's basement.  Pheffer would later contradict his own trial testimony and later embellished his story by claiming the discovery of wired suitcases never seen or reported by anyone else and not logged in any police report.


The jury that convicted Poindexter and Langa never heard the deadly tape.  The jury did not know that Peak would get a minimal sentence as a juvenile and that House would never be formally charged for supplying the dynamite.  The jury did not know the police testimony would later be self-contradicted.  The jury did not know about the COINTELPRO directives to destroy the Black Panthers and the compromised role of the FBI in the case.  The jury did not know about the deception of Assistant Chief of Police Glenn Gates concerning the emergency call tape recording.


Lincoln Attorney Robert Bartle has been waging a lengthy legal battle to bring the hidden facts of the case to the attention of the courts and is representing Poindexter in a second appeal also pending with the Nebraska Supreme Court.  No date has been set for a decision in either appeal.


Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa remain incarcerated in the Nebraska State Penitentiary.  Both men deny any involvement in Larry Minard's death.

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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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