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J. Edgar Hoover informed by Omaha FBI of cover-up of evidence in Black Panther case during COINTELPRO and took no action

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The Nebraska Supreme Court is hearing the appeal of Ed Poindexter's 1971 conviction for the bombing murder of Omaha police officer Larry Minard.  Poindexter was head of the Omaha chapter of the Black Panthers, called the National Committee to Combat Fascism, when Minard was killed in an ambush bombing while answering a call about a woman screaming.

 

A fifteen year-old, Duane Peak, confessed and was convicted of planting the bomb.  However, in exchange for testimony against Poindexter and his co-defendant, Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice), the young murderer was given a deal and sentenced as a juvenile walking free in 1974.

 

At the time of the bombing, the Black Panthers were the targets of a secret, and illegal, operation of the FBI ordered by Director J. Edgar Hoover to disrupt the group.  COINTELPRO agents in the field, eager to please Hoover, engaged in a wide variety of dirty tricks, including illegal acts, and dutifully notified Hoover.

 

Poindexter and Langa were already targets of COINTELPRO when Peak committed his crime and the Omaha Police went to work to make a case against the two Panther leaders working closely with federal agents. 

 

Peak's testimony against Poindexter and Langa was critical to obtaining their conviction and his credibility was crucial.  However, the police had one big problem, the voice on the emergency call that lured Minard to his death did not sound like Peak.  If Peak had an accomplice who made the call then his testimony against Poindexter and Langa was suspect.

 

In exhibits now before the Nebraska Supreme Court, the COINTELPRO communiqués are under review and tell a disturbing tale of withheld evidence and Hoover's knowledge of the withheld information.  On the day of the bombing, August 17, 1970, the Special Agent in Charge of the Omaha FBI office sent an Airtel message to Hoover.

 

"Enclosed for the laboratory is one copy of a tape recording obtained from the Omaha Police Department."

 

"The enclosed tape was recorded from an existing tape (the original) recording used by the Omaha Police Department in their normal emergency telephone calls for the period of 8/17/70 between the hours of 12:00 Midnight and 9:00 a.m."

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"[Name redacted] inquired into the possibility of voice analysis of the individual making the call by the FBI Laboratory.  He was advised the matter would be considered and that if such analysis were made and if subsequent voice patterns were transmitted for comparison, such analysis would have to be strictly informal, as the FBI could not provide any testimony in the matter; also, only an oral report of the results of such examination would be made to the Police Department."

 

"Any assistance rendered along the lines mentioned above would greatly enhance the prestige of the FBI among law enforcement representatives in this area, and I thus strongly recommend that the request be favorably considered."

 

"In view of the forgoing, it is requested that the FBI Laboratory examine enclosed tape recording and make the appropriate voice print to be retained for comparison against other tape recordings of suspects to be submitted at a later date."

 

Two months later on October 13, 1970, after Peak's preliminary hearing and testimony that he made the emergency call, the Omaha Special Agent in Charge again notified Hoover of developments in the case and passed along the request to ignore the tape.

 

"Assistant COP GLENN GATES, Omaha PD, advised that he feels that any use of tapes of this call might be prejudicial to the police murder trial against 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."

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"UACB, no further efforts are being made at this time to secure additional tape recordings of the original telephone call."

 

The recording of the emergency call was withheld from defense lawyers and jurors in the case never got to hear the voice that set the lethal trap.  The original tape was destroyed in April 1978.  Later, a copy made at the order of George Winkler, head of police communications in Omaha, surfaced.  Poindexter's co-defendant, Mondo we Langa, raised the matter on appeal.

 

In 1983 the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that there had been no "expert in voice analysis" to support the claim that Peak's voice was not on the emergency call tape and denied Langa's appeal.  In 2004, Poindexter tried again and in 2006 a vocal expert, Tom Owens, subjected the tape to a series of scientific tests concluding that to a high degree of certainty it was not Peak's voice on the withheld tape.

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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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