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Dec. 28, 2011
|Ed Poindexter||Mondo we Langa|
Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, the leaders of the Omaha chapter of the Black Panther Party in the early 1970s, were framed for the murder of Omaha Police Officer Larry Minard as part of J. Edgar Hoover’s clandestine, illegal counterintelligence operation known as COINTELPRO that targeted Black Panther Party leaders all over the United States. Although neither man had any connection to the murder of the young officer, both remain imprisoned for life.
The murder of Omaha, Nebraska policeman Larry Minard over 40 years ago and the COINTELPRO-inspired investigation that followed landed two Black Panther leaders – Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa – in prison for life. The scapegoats came to be known as the “Omaha Two.” In order to pin the police officer’s murder on the two leaders of Omaha’s Black Panther Party, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover gave a secret order to withhold a crime laboratory report on the identity of the anonymous caller that lured the 29-year-old policeman to his death.
Hoover directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1924 to his death in 1972. He also directed a secret, illegal, counterintelligence operation within the FBI from 1956 to 1971, codenamed COINTELPRO that targeted radical groups such as the Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society, and the American Indian Movement. COINTELPRO’s stated aim was to destabilize these groups by either murdering their leaders or getting them convicted of felonies. (COINTELPRO is an acronym for Counterintelligence Program.)
Attorney Paul Wolf, author of the report COINTELPRO: The Untold American Story, has written, “At its most extreme dimension, political dissidents have been eliminated outright or sent to prison for the rest of their lives.” Wolf explained one FBI tactic involved the arrest and prosecution of targeted individuals for “spurious reasons.”
“The FBI made use of informants, often quite violent and emotionally disturbed individuals, to present false testimony to the courts, to frame COINTELPRO targets for crimes they knew they did not commit. In some cases the charges were quite serious, including murder,” says Wolf.
The roots of COINTELPRO go deep as J. Edgar Hoover established his career with the infamous Palmer raids and cases against anarchist Emma Goldman and Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey.
In 1926, Hoover wrote to Special Agent John Dowd in the Boston FBI office: “I would like to be able to find some theory of law and some statement of facts to fit it that would enable the federal authorities to deal vigorously with the ultra-radical elements that are engaged in propaganda and acts inimical to the institutions of our country.”
Hoover finally created his own theory of law and thousands of groups and individuals were targets of COINTELPRO over the years as Hoover expanded the clandestine operation to keep pace with tumultuous events as the civil rights and anti-war movements grew in the mid-1960s.
“FBI headquarters set policy, assessed progress, charted new directions, demanded increased production, and carefully monitored and controlled day-to-day operations. This arrangement required that national COINTELPRO supervisors and local FBI field offices communicate back and forth, at great lengths, concerning every operation,” explains attorney Brian Glick, author of the book War at Home.
So-called “Black Nationalist Hate Groups” were added to COINTELPRO assignments on August 25, 1967 with the mandate from Hoover, “to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize” specified organizations and 1,246 FBI agents were given racial intelligence assignments.
By 1968, Hoover had 1,678 agents assigned to COINTELPRO around the country and had established a “Rabble Rouser” index of domestic political activists. The Black Nationalist COINTELPRO had been expanded from 23 to 41 FBI field offices on March 4, 1968, including Omaha, Nebraska.
|J. Edgar Hoover|
On August 5, 1968, J. Edgar Hoover ordered COINTELPRO agents to conduct media campaigns against the Black Panthers. He directed his agents to encourage reporters to investigate the group and furnish FBI “background data” to interested reporters. Hoover’s memo specifically listed Omaha as one of the cities where he expected a counterintelligence operation using the local news media.
On September 8, 1968, Hoover told The New York Times the Black Panthers were “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”
Two weeks later, on September 27, George Moore, head of Racial Intelligence, sent William Sullivan, head of Domestic Intelligence and third in command of the FBI, a COINTELPRO memorandum advocating an “accelerated” counterintelligence program against the Black Panthers. Moore described the Black Panthers, “It is the most violence-prone organization of all the extremist groups now operating in the United States.”
Moore elaborated on one of the goals of Black Nationalist COINTELPRO actions, “Our counterintelligence program may bring about results which could lead to prosecution of these violence-prone leaders.” Moore had a willing ally in his effort to accelerate COINTELPRO against the Black Panthers in William Sullivan. Sullivan was a veteran of counterintelligence and had orchestrated the FBI wiretap campaign against Martin Luther King Jr., including a sex-tape blackmail scheme to encourage King to commit suicide.
In 1970, J. Edgar Hoover stepped up his clandestine operations with the Key Black Extremist Program directed at those “black activists who were particularly agitative, extreme, and vocal in their demands for terrorism and violence”
Noam Chomsky, a long-time COINTELPRO critic, charges, “FBI provocateurs repeatedly urged and initiated violent acts, including forceful disruptions of meetings and demonstrations on and off university campuses, attacks on police, bombings, and so on.” Chomsky says there is plenty of blame to go around.
Chomsky is blunt: “The criminal activities of the FBI were initiated under the liberal Democratic administrations and carried further under Nixon. The programs were (partially) exposed during the Watergate period, and though incomparably more serious than anything charged against Nixon, they were virtually ignored during this period by the liberal national press and journals of opinion, and only marginally discussed since.”
David Cunningham, author of There’s Something Going On, a detailed study of COINTELPRO, wrote in his book, “The repression of the Panthers marked the most savage incarnation of COINTELPRO.” Hoover’s intense assault on the Black Panthers was an outgrowth of a lifetime of racist ideology that kept the FBI virtually an all-white agency during Hoover’s rule.
William Sullivan described COINTELPRO to a Senate sub-committee investigating the illegal operation, “This is a rough, tough, dirty business, and dangerous.”
On January 30, 1969, Hoover sent a COINTELPRO memo to Special Agent-in-Charge Marlin Johnson in Chicago authorizing an anonymous letter to Jeff Fort of the Blackstone Rangers street gang to provoke a dispute with Fred Hampton, leader of the Illinois Black Panthers.
In mid-November 1969, FBI agent Roy Mitchell recruited Fred Hampton’s bodyguard William O’Neal in Chicago, ultimately paying him $10,000. Two weeks later O’Neal supplied Mitchell with a diagram of Hampton’s apartment, identifying the location of Hampton’s bed. Mitchell then met with officers from the State’s Attorney special police unit and planned an armed raid on Hampton’s apartment.
On December 4, 1969, 14 heavily-armed members of the prosecutor’s special unit surrounded Fred Hampton’s apartment at 4:45 a.m. Police fired 90 bullets into the apartment specifically targeting Hampton’s bedroom where the Panther leader was asleep with his pregnant girlfriend. Peoria Panther leader Mark Clark, who was on security, fired one shot as he died during the fusillade. Hampton, wounded during the attack, was shot at point blank range in the head twice as he lay bleeding on his bed. Attorney Jeffrey Haas, who was Hampton’s lawyer, minces no words recently authoring a book about the killing titled The Assassination of Fred Hampton.
In Los Angeles, on December 8, 1969, a FBI informant, Melvin “Cotton” Smith provided inside information on the residence of Black Panther security head Elmer Gerald “Geronimo” Pratt. A pre-dawn FBI coached raid by the Los Angeles Police Department, instead of killing Pratt, resulted in a four-hour gun battle. Thirteen Panthers were arrested after the firefight, putting Pratt in Hoover’s cross-hairs. (See FBI Memo on Pratt)
|Geronimo ji-Jaga Pratt|
Attorney Paul Wolf draws a comparison: “The similarities between the Chicago and Los Angeles raids are undeniable, with a special local police unit closely linked to the FBI involved in both assaults, spurious warrants seeking “illegal weapons” utilized on both occasions, predawn timing of both raids to catch the Panthers asleep and a reliance on overwhelming police firepower to the exclusion of all other methods.”
In June 1970, Hoover authored a secret Special Report 5 for the White House where Hoover called the Black Panthers “the most active and dangerous black extremist group in the United States.”
Meanwhile, in July, Omaha police learned of three men selling stolen dynamite. A buy was set up.
Omaha Police Captain Murdock Platner would later testify in Washington, D.C. to the U.S. House Committee on Internal Security that the dynamite had been stolen in Des Moines, Iowa and was suspected to be the source of explosives used in recent Omaha bombings:
“We received information from a party that had been approached to buy dynamite. We had him buy it and he bought 10 sticks. It was 2 and-a-half by 16-inch sticks. He came back later and said he could buy more of this dynamite. So we set for him to buy and then…we did move in and arrested three young men in a car. In their possession they had 41 sticks of this same type of dynamite.”
Platner called the owner of Quick Supply Co. in Des Moines, Iowa where dynamite of that size was stolen earlier in the summer. According to Platner, “he was almost positive it had to be their dynamite.” Platner investigated further, “Sergeant Gladson checked back with the manufacturer of the dynamite, and they told him that was the only shipment of that size dynamite in the year 1970.”
Luther Payne, Lamont Mitchell, and Conrad Gray were arrested in possession of dynamite during a planned traffic stop. Eager to escape felony charges the three men told police a story that found an interested audience.
The three men in jail denied any involvement in the Des Moines burglary. Instead, they claimed they found the dynamite in the back room of a local anti-poverty agency. The lead detective working the case was Jack Swanson, who was the complaining witness against the men in court.
The day after the trio’s first court appearance in Omaha, the U.S. Senate Committee on Government Operations began hearings in Washington, D.C. on the Black Panthers and bombings around the country.
Payne, Mitchell, and Gray remained in jail, unreported by the local news media, unable to post bond.
Marin County Courthouse August 7, 1970
On August 7, 1970, in Marin County, California, a courtroom rescue attempt by Black Panther George Jackson’s brother, Jonathan, resulted in a shootout killing four people including Judge Harold Haley. The bloody courthouse shootout captured national attention and helped demonize the Black Panthers to many. Angela Davis had a warrant issued for her arrest in the aftermath of the California bloodbath, accused of supplying a weapon and ammunition. Hoover would soon add her name to the FBI’s famed Ten Most Wanted List.
Two days after the Marin County fiasco, a paper sack containing 10 sticks of dynamite was found along a street in Bellevue, an Omaha suburb. The news media, silent about the arrest of Payne, Mitchell, and Gray, snapped to action and duly reported on the sack of dynamite.
Special Agent-in-Charge Paul Young had been the recipient for the preceding year of a series of COINTELPRO memos from J. Edgar Hoover demanding results against the leadership of the Black Panthers in Omaha. The lethal ferocity of Hoover’s secret operation had already been revealed in Chicago COINTELPRO operations against Fred Hampton.
Before a week had passed since Hampton’s death, Hoover sent a COINTELPRO memo to Paul Young, complaining about a lack of action against the Black Panthers in Omaha.
On December 10, 1969, Hoover sent Young a critical memorandum. Hoover wrote, “You stated…the United Front Against Fascism (UFAF), the successor to the Black Panther Party (BPP) in Omaha, is composed of approximately eight to 12 members, and their only activities have been to sell The Black Panther, BPP newspaper, and publication of a UFAF newsletter.”
Memo From J. Edger Hoover To Omaha FBI Field Office
Hoover continued: “While the activities appear to be limited in the Omaha area, it does not follow that effective counterintelligence measures cannot be taken. As long as there are BPP activities, you should be giving consideration that type of counterintelligence measure which would best disrupt existing activities. It would appear that some type of counterintelligence aimed at the disruption and publication of their literature would be in order.”
The FBI director told the Omaha office to target the leaders of the UFAF for counterintelligence action. Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa had stepped up to lead the affiliate Black Panther chapter in the Nebraska city and were now the focus of Hoover’s attention.
Ed Poindexter was a six-year Army veteran who voluntarily served in Germany and Vietnam. He went to work for the Post Office upon his discharge from the service. Poindexter joined the Panthers to help the community after being informed of the group by his sister; however his membership in the Panthers led to his departure from the Post Office after his picture was published in the daily newspaper as a member of the group.
Mondo we Langa was an outreach worker with the Greater Omaha Community Action agency whose self-stated motive for joining the Panthers was love for his brothers and sisters. Mondo was popular at Holy Family church where he played guitar and developed a following as a writer for two alternative newspapers, Asterisk and Buffalo Chip. Mondo became a regular fixture at Omaha City Council meetings where he monitored local issues.
Hoover wrote to Young: “It is also assumed that of eight to 12 members, one or two must certainly be in a position of leadership. You should give consideration to counterintelligence measures directed against these leaders in an effort to weaken or destroy their positions. Bureau has noted you have not submitted any concrete counterintelligence proposals in recent months. Evaluate your approach to this program and insure that it is given the imaginative attention necessary to produce effective results. Handle promptly and submit your proposals to the Bureau for approval.”
Paul Young got the message. Young replied to Hoover within days by registered mail promising to go after the UFAF newsletter and the leaders of the Omaha chapter. Young wrote to Hoover, “In addition to this information, indications are that the UFAF is planning to start a liberation school at its headquarters in Omaha in the near future.”
Young continued: “In response to the referenced Bureau letter, the identities of the UFAF leadership are known to the Omaha office. Omaha is presently giving consideration to some type of counterintelligence activity aimed at disruption of the UFAF newsletter or its distribution and counterintelligence measures directed against the leaders of this organization.”
However, on February 24, Paul Young had to tell Hoover he was unable to establish a pattern of Panther activity and was unable to plan a counterintelligence operation. On April 3, Hoover sent approval to Young to send an anonymous letter about Ed Poindexter to Black Panther headquarters accusing Poindexter of ripping off the community and directed Young to coordinate the letter with the San Francisco office.
World Herald letter
On August 15, 1970, Paul Young, under a continuing mandate from Hoover to the Omaha FBI office, was plotting a smear campaign against Ed Poindexter using another bogus letter addressed to Black Panther national headquarters in Oakland, accusing Poindexter of collaborating with “Whitey’s newspaper”, the Omaha World-Herald, in an effort to create a rift in the organization.
The Black Panthers in Omaha were not the “lumpen” or street criminals that filled the ranks in some cities. In Omaha, the group worked with anti-poverty agencies, on a petition drive, operated a liberation school for children, and worked on a breakfast program. The chapter also published a newsletter. None of the surveillance showed any involvement in criminal activity, thus Young faced a limited opportunity for a counterintelligence action.
|Omaha patrolman Larry Minard|
However, the murder of Omaha patrolman Larry Minard suddenly presented Paul Young with the perfect opportunity to please Hoover if he could make a case against Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa
The crime that rocked Omaha was triggered with an anonymous 911 phone call on August 17, 1970. Dawn broke over the city to an overcast drizzle on a Monday morning. The weather matched the mood in the stunned, saddened city. An ambush bombing at 2:11 a.m. had taken the life of a policeman, the father of five young children.
Minard and seven other officers had responded to a 911 call placed by an anonymous male caller with a deep voice who reported a woman screaming at a vacant house. Instead of a screaming woman, the eight officers who converged at 2867 Ohio Street only found an open empty house and a suspicious suitcase just inside the front door.
After a quick search of the house,while examining the Samsonite suitcase, Officer Minard was killed instantly by a powerful, deafening blast that shook the neighborhood and partially destroyed the vacant house. The coroner described severe traumatic injuries to Minard’s skull and torso in the autopsy report.
Omaha Mayor Eugene Leahy heard the explosion from his home 40 blocks away, telling a reporter the next day, “That was a terrific blast.” Leahy called police headquarters after the bombing and was briefed on what happened. The mayor toured the crime scene on his way to work in the morning.
Larry Minard had only been on duty since midnight when he reported for the “A” shift after telling his wife not to worry. Police arrived at the Minard residence about a half hour after the bombing to deliver the terrible news but by then the newly widowed Karen Minard had been awaken by Larry’s police scanner which was blaring reports about an officer down.
The police investigation began immediately as officers sifted through debris looking for clues. Larry Minard’s mangled and burned body lay where he died until 3:50 a.m. while crime scene technicians scoured the premises. Finally, Minard’s body was removed by rescue personnel after a light rain began to fall.
First light brought the start of what would be a day-long procession of motorists slowly driving by the crime scene. A crowd of neighborhood onlookers was also on hand much of the time as people spoke in hushed tones and muted voices.
At 6:05 a.m. off-duty policeman Harold Flemmer called police headquarters after learning of Minard’s death. Flemmer reported he had been pulling guard duty at room 318 of the County Hospital over a prisoner named George McCline. Flemmer said that McCline, who was being held for a July 29th shooting, told him the dynamite obtained from July arrests of three men “had been meant for the new police station.” Flemmer also said that McCline told him, “that at least 12 policemen were going to get it.”
Flemmer related what McCline told him while recovering from surgery: “He further bragged that the policy had been changed and there would be no more burning and looting, from now on it was to be blowing up things. He bragged that Component Concepts had been blown as the owner was a Uncle Tom.” Component Concepts Corporation was a black-owned defense subcontractor that was bombed July 2, 1970, in an unsolved crime.
At police headquarters, a hastily convened meeting of a multi-agency task force called “Domino” was called to order. Principals present were agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Division of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, detectives from the Douglas County Sheriff’ and the Omaha Police Department. Governor Norbert Tiemann had also ordered the Nebraska State Patrol to send two troopers to work the case.
Retired ATF agent James Moore, from the Kansas City, Missouri ATF office, told about the Domino meeting in his book Very Special Agents: “This meeting has one mission: to catch the cop killers. Preliminary discussion was brief and pointed. The weapon, the method and the target suggested extremists. Panthers and Weathermen murdered policemen this way. The Negro voice on the dispatcher’s tape suggested Panthers.”
Then Moore gave a big surprise: “One of the FBI agents told the group “We have excellent informer coverage of the Panthers, and our key informer advises us that two white males were observed running from the scene shortly before the blast.”
Moore raised the possibility the tip was only a ruse to throw off ATF agents competing to crack the case. However, if the FBI informant had a role in the crime he may have told the agents about two “white males.” Or, maybe two white men really were the bombers.
Although the FBI told the Domino group about white men, SAC Paul Young wasted no time in privately talking with Assistant Chief of Police Glen W. Gates, who was in charge of the investigation into the deadly ambush.
Memo on Voice Recording
According to a confidential FBI “airtel” memorandum, Paul Young and Glen Gates discussed a piece of crucial evidence the police had – the recorded voice of the anonymous caller captured by the 911 system.
Gates was already working with the ATF laboratory on dynamite analysis from other bombings in Omaha earlier in the summer so it would have seemed natural to accept the help of the FBI laboratory to analyze the 911 recording. However, the FBI offer was conditional: no written report which might end up in court as evidence.
At noon following the bombing, 13 off-duty Omaha policemen led by Captain William Pattavina cornered Mayor Leahy in his office to complain about a lack of support for police. Pattavina and two sergeants, Keith Lant and Robert Pfeffer, met with the mayor for a half-hour while the other 10 officers occupied the lobby.
At 4:05 p.m. the administrator of Girls Town, Harold Youngren, called police headquarters and reported a pushy black book salesman named Frank Fortino who was selling books on Black Studies. Fortino claimed to be a demolitions expert and an officer in the Black Panthers. “He threatened to blow up the school if books were not purchased,” said Youngren.
Despite the FBI tip about the two white males seen fleeing the bomb scene, Omaha police concentrated on arresting members or associates of Omaha’s Black Panther affiliate group. By week’s end, the dragnet begun on Monday through the Near North Side would net 60 black suspects.
At five o’clock in the afternoon, Detective Jack Swanson, head of the OPD Intelligence Unit, reported a call from an FBI agent named Hayes. “He has a witness in the neighborhood of the bombing, who states that there was White Cadilac [sic] which left the scene shortly before the blast at a high rate of speed.”
Swanson continued, “Hayes said he got this information second hand, and that the actual witness was a young Negro male.”
The record of the call from the FBI concluded, “This white Cadillac was supposed to have been occupied by one Negro male, and one white male.”
Swanson also made up a list of 39 members or associates of the National Committee to Combat Fascism, for questioning.
While Swanson worked on his list of NCCF suspects, Sergeant Joseph Boan went to County Hospital to interview prisoner George McCline and finished his report at 9 p.m. McCline gave Boan an earful about alleged dynamite sellers in the Omaha area. McCline said dynamite could be bought from a Mafia-member named Leroy Chiles, from Yano Caniglia at the Cheeta Lounge strip club, and from Bubbles, a dancer at the club.
McCline also said the kingpin of the explosion was “Bussie,” an uncle of Vivian Strong. Vivian Strong was a 14 year-old girl shot to death by Omaha policeman James Loder in 1969, whose killing led to several days of rioting. McCline said Bussie drove a 1967 silver-black Cadillac and that a man named Luther Payne was arrested taking dynamite to Bussie’s house.
Tips kept rolling in. At 9:30 p.m. Omaha officer D. Howard reported an informant overheard a conversation at the Hilton Hotel with a bartender where a hotel employee allegedly said he knew who sold the dynamite and planted the bomb that killed Larry Minard. Howard was unable to locate the hotel employee for questioning.
The day after the bombing in Omaha, a powerful blast at the Federal Building in Minneapolis, Minnesota at 3 a.m. injured a night watchman and caused $500,000 damage. Investigators later determined the bomb had the force of 20 sticks of dynamite. Suddenly the Midwest was on the front line of guerilla warfare. The Minneapolis crime remains unsolved.
Back in Omaha, the round-up of suspects on the Near North Side continued on Tuesday with 11 more arrests bringing a total of three dozen people in custody by the end of the second day of the dragnet.
Glen Gates barred reporters from police headquarters’ fourth floor squad room where police and reporters normally chatted about the daily arrest log as the investigation intensified.
Douglas County Assistant Prosecutor Arthur O’Leary moved in to police headquarters to help coordinate the logistics of the arrests, telling reporters he was there on routine business.
At 8:25 a.m. Sheriff Ted Janning called a police captain and stated that a security guard from his office overheard either prisoner George McCline or Lamont Mitchell, who had been arrested with dynamite in July, at the County Hospital where the inmate stated Vivian Strong had an uncle named Busby who drove a 1967 Cadillac and that “he had something to do” with triggering the bomb
The departure from Omaha of the primary piece of evidence – the recorded voice of Larry Minard’s fatal caller – was noted with a front-page Omaha World-Herald article. The newspaper headlined, “Voiceprint in Bombing to FBI Lab.”
The Omaha World-Herald quoted Acting Police Chief Walter J. Devere: “A copy of the telephone tape in the booby-trap killing of Patrolman Larry Minard has been sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington for voiceprint analysis.”
“Voiceprinting – using voice sounds to establish identity – is relatively new and not admissible evidence in court. But it is a good investigative tool,” Chief Devere added.
Jack Swanson got another call from FBI Agent Hayes which he reported at 6:45 p.m. on Tuesday, the day after the bombing. “Hayes says that this was supposed to be a Black Vinel/White 66 Cadillac, [sic] bearing green license plates. The witness did not [see] the number of the plates, nor the state which it was from. This auto was seen going north from Ohio, on 30th at a high rate of speed, and ran the red light at 30th and Binney Sts. It was supposed to have been occupied by one white male, and one Negor [sic] male.”
Swanson dug into his files and at 7 p.m. reported on information he obtained on June 12 about two suspicious white males from FBI agent Hayes. Hayes told Swanson that David Lawrence Coyle was “involved with the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society] and was extremely militant.” Coyle was reportedly recruited by John Herold.
Swanson elaborated, “Also, according to Agent Hayes, FBI, he [Coyle] had stated to one of his sources that they were going to [do] something really big to make people sit up and take notice.”
The FBI’s white Cadillac was not the only Cadillac police were looking for. At 7:45 p.m. another Omaha policeman, Patrick J. John, reported an informant told him about a “dirty red older model Cadalic [sic] with loud mufflers” seen in the neighborhood of the bombing driving suspiciously and then departing at a high rate of speed a “few minutes” before the explosion.
At 11:30 p.m. a Social Security card belonging to Johnnie Lee Bussby was turned over to the property room. The card was found at the scene of the crime in the blast debris the day before by ATF agents and given to Lt. James Perry.
The next day, August 19, at 6:30 p.m. Jack Swanson “observed a White 1966 Cadillac occupied by one Negro male, one White male and one Negor [sic] female.” Swanson radioed for a uniform cruiser to make a stop and bring the occupants in for questioning. The two men spotted by Swanson were James Boose and Lannie Hicks.
According to Swanson’s report, Boose was “a former member of the Black Panther Party.” Lannie Hicks was just a “suspected house burglar.” Nothing came from the interrogations ordered by Lt. James Perry at Swanson’s request
At the Omaha FBI office, Paul Young anxiously awaited word from Washington, D.C. on his request to withhold a lab report on the identity of the anonymous 911 caller who lured Minard to the deadly ambush. Young wanted to use the bombing as an opportunity to satisfy J. Edgar Hoover’s mandate to “destroy” the local Black Panther leadership. The presence of an unknown caller presented a problem in making a case against the Panther leaders.
With Larry Minard’s death Young finally had an opportunity to direct counterintelligence measures against Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa. When Young’s confidential memo to Hoover was received by COINTELPRO supervisors at FBI headquarters, a second memo was written for Ivan Willard Conrad,director of the FBI crime lab.
Memo to Ivan Willard Conrad
A COINTELPRO agent at FBI Headquarters named W.W. Bradley authored the confidential memo to Conrad following up on Young’s proposal to withhold evidence. The heavily redacted memo, released under the Freedom of Information Act, spelled out that no written report on Minard’s killer was to be furnished.
Bradley’s memo to Conrad, dated August 19, 1970, was sent to top FBI officials including William C. Sullivan. Sullivan was head of Domestic Intelligence and helped create COINTELPRO for Hoover.
Charles D. Brennan also got Bradley’s memo on Larry Minard’s fatal caller. Brennan was a senior member of the daily COINTELPRO directorate that issued illegal commands to the field offices. Brennan had worked in the Omaha FBI office before his transfer to FBI headquarters where he reported to William Sullivan.
Brennan was the most vocal critic of Martin Luther King Jr. within the FBI and had authored an 11-page internal monograph on counterintelligence measures against King leading to the elaborate operation conducted against King. Brennan was aggressive on counterintelligence actions.
A mysterious “Mr. Shimota” also appears on the Bradley memo copy list. FBI Special Agent John E. Shimota was a relatively obscure agent who ended his FBI career working prostitution cases in Fargo, North Dakota. Shimota, who also worked on the Wounded Knee FBI task force in South Dakota, was possibly the agent assigned by Paul Young to coordinate COINTELPRO actions in the Omaha office. The identity of the COINTELPRO agent in Omaha has never been officially disclosed.
Bradley wrote: “By airtel 8/17/70 the Omaha Office has advised that the Omaha Police Department has requested laboratory assistance in connection with a bombing which took place in Omaha 8/17/70. This bombing resulted in the death of one police officer and the injuring of six other officers and is apparently directly connected with a series of racial bombings which the Omaha Police have experienced. The Police were lured to the bomb site by a telephonic distress call from an unknown male.”
Blanks appear in the COINTELPRO memo where text has been crossed out: “[REDACTED] of the Omaha Police has requested [REDACTED]. The SAC [Special Agent-in-Charge], Omaha strongly recommends that the examination requested by the Omaha Police Department be conducted.”
“[REDACTED] It is felt, in view of the SAC’s recommendation and the significance of this case, an exception should be made in this case in order to assist the Omaha Police in developing investigative leads. The results of any examination will not be furnished directly to the police but orally conveyed through the SAC of Omaha.,” wrote Bradley.
The confidential memo concluded with a recommendation: “[REDACTED] Omaha Police in developing investigation leads. If approved, the results of any examinations will be orally furnished the police on an informal basis through the SAC, Omaha.”
The memorandum to Ivan Conrad bears his initials twice. Once, when he reviewed the request, and a second time after he talked to J. Edgar Hoover confirming the lab was not to issue a formal report on the recording of the anonymous 911 caller who lured Larry Minard to his death.
Conrad talked with Hoover the same day Bradley sent the COINTELPRO memo. Conrad wrote on the document, “Dir advised telephonically & said OK to do.” Conrad then initialed and dated the note about Hoover’s command on withholding formal identification of the anonymous 911 caller.
Detective Jack Swanson, now working the Minard case, was still in the middle of the investigation of the three men arrested with stolen dynamite three weeks earlier on July 28, 1970 .
Several days after a cancelled federal raid on the headquarters of the Omaha Black Panther affiliate chapter, the Omaha Police Department got a lead on stolen dynamite being sold in the city.
Based on a tip from an adolescent, agents of the Division of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms had sought to search the Panther headquarters looking for machine guns and explosives. Omaha was on edge after a series of bombings including one at a police substation in North Omaha and ATF agents suspected the Black Panthers were involved.
The Omaha FBI office, under pressure from Hoover for action against the Panthers, put a stop to the rival agency’s search with a phone call to the Justice Department and initiated their own investigation.
Paul Young had no interest in becoming the object of Hoover’s wrath. FBI agents then began their own canvass of the neighborhood where the Panther office was located in a futile effort to learn about a purported stash of machine guns. Assistant U.S. Attorney William Gallup later resigned his position as a federal prosecutor in Nebraska in protest against FBI interference with the planned ATF raid.
After Larry Minard’s murder, Luther Payne got word out of the jail he could help the investigation. Payne told Omaha officer Arnold Dailey that one of four men--Lonnie Woods, Maurice Reedus, Eddie Bolden, or Thomas Bick--was most likely responsible, implying they were the source of the explosives he had been arrested for. One of the men Payne named, Eddie Bolden, was the former head of the local Black Panthers who had been replaced by Ed Poindexter.
Officer Minard was buried on Thursday following one of the largest funerals in the city’s history. The father of five was buried on his 30th birthday, August 20, 1970. The day before Minard’s funeral Hoover had given the order to let the anonymous 911 caller go unidentified.
On Friday, August 21 at 2 a.m. a man arrested at a disturbance call, Anthony Sanders, was in custody and offered information on Minard’s murder. Sanders, on Federal probation, wanted help leaving Omaha in exchange for his information about two white men, Gary and Darrell, who hung out at Rocket Billiards. Sanders told police the pair quizzed him about “militants” in the past. More recently Sanders claimed the two men “are now bragging” of knowledge about two “Germans” from Iowa, “who are doing the bombings.”
Sanders’s Germans were responsible for the Components Concepts Corporation blast and also the “North Assembly,” a police substation bombed on June 11 in North Omaha. Sanders was shown “several hundred photos” out of the “Indmo 55 group” of police mug shots and identified Darrell as Henry Casperi.
Henry Casperi, who had been arrested in Omaha at the bus depot, had an FBI file which documented an arrest in Laguna Beach, California for assault against a police officer.
At 8:45 a.m. a police informant, Tyrone Stearns alias Turner, told police that Luther Payne, who had been arrested in July possessing dynamite, was a Black Panther. The informer also said he was present at a Black Panther meeting on Wednesday after the Components Concept Corporation bombing and the operation was described as a success.
Paul Young, special agent-in-charge, called FBI Headquarters and requested a FBI Laboratory supervisor travel to Omaha “for the purpose of furnishing technical guidance” to local police. Meanwhile, police got a visitor to headquarters at 1:50 p.m. when a taxi-driver named Richard Gibson asked to speak to an officer about the Minard murder.
Gibson lived on Ohio Street three blocks from the bombing and told police he was a former member of the Omaha chapter of the Black Panthers who had a falling out with then-leader Eddie Bolden. A police report says “Gibson stated that he felt that some of the group still has it in for him and may be trying to involve him in the bombing.”
Gibson told police he had just delivered a fare and drove to the sound of the explosion but was stopped at 30th& Ohio by police who had already cordoned off the crime scene. Gibson ended his visit by telling police the Black Panthers had also worked with “Caucasian” members of the Peace and Freedom Party in Lincoln, Nebraska.
|Detective Jack Swanson|
At 8 p.m. Detective Swanson was busy going over surveillance photos his intelligence unit had taken of NCCF headquarters in July looking for clues. Tracking down the license number of one car containing two white men, Swanson got names, Donald Stirling and Roger Duncan. Duncan was questioned about his coming and going from the Panther office. Duncan said the two were volunteers for United Methodist Ministers investigating reports of police harassment.
Swanson wrote in his report: “DUNCAN further said that he did not think the Panthers were involved….Duncan said that party policy was strictly defensive right now. He indicated that they would need authority from National Headquarters to place a bomb.”
“DUNCAN has said that in his opinion, the person who committed the crime would be one party who feels that he is alienated from society.”
Swanson noted that pinned to the wall were several scorched draft cards. Swansageson reported, “This information was given to Agent HARRIS, FBI.”
Officer Arnold Dailey was also working late and at 10:20 p.m. filed a report about an interview with a Mrs. White and a Mr. Jerks earlier in the evening. Both White and Jerks said they had seen Duane Peak with “a light gray Samsonite suitcase which looked like it was heavy.”
Mrs. White added that Duane did not own a suitcase and had only a few clothes. Dailey’s report said Peak “throws them over his arm whenever he moves from place to place.”
“The next day he stated that he has to lay low because they (Police) has a warrant and they are looking for him. He was also bragging about bombing the house at 2867 Ohio St.”
Dailey’s report on Peak also said Duane stole a police riot gun, burglarized a gas station and fire bombed a shack behind the gas station. Duane’s night of crime against Erikson filling station was with Russell Peak according to the police report. “Russell PEAK is also the one responsible for shooting a white male on 30th Street, Mr. Jenks and Mrs. White stated.”
Sgt. Robert Pfeffer interviewed Annie Morris at police headquarter. According to Pfeffer’s report of the session Morris said Duane Peak had asked for the phone number of the police station a day or so before the bombing. Morris also told of an exchange between Duane and Donald Peak on Monday night after the explosion.
Pfeffer’s report gives Morris’s account: “Duane PEAK was setting [sic] with her on the couch in the frontroom and DONNIE came to the front window and scared her, DONNIE said that at this time the Police were trying to scare the ones who did it and that DONNIE then asked DUANE, “what’s the matter boy, can’t you get any sleep”? Then, “don [sic] let that bother you.”
At 10:33 p.m. Pfeffer took Morris to the sixth floor Communications Room where the 911 tape was played for her repeatedly. Morris initially said she thought the voice was Duane’s then she switched brothers. “However, after listening to the tape, two and three times, she stated it sounded like Donnie PEAK, disguising his voice, or trying to do so.
A public break in the case came the next day when a warrant for murder was issued on August 22, 1970, against 15 year-old Duane Peak. At 6 p.m.a teenager, Theresa Peak, was brought in for questioning. Theresa told police that shortly after sundown on August 16 her two brothers Donald, Jr. and Duane got into her car and that Duane was carrying a suitcase. After an hour of intense questioning Theresa told of Duane’s confession to her.
The police report states: “Theresa said that on Monday 17 Aug. 70 her brother Peak, Donald Jr. told her that Peak, Duane had put the bomb in the house, also that one day just before the funeral of Minard, Larry her brother Duane Peak was at her home and told her that he had put the bomb in the house that killed the policeman.”
The report continues: “Theresa said that both brothers told her it was Nitro glyerine use [sic] in the bomb. She further stated that Duane Peak told her that he had carried the suitcase from the Panther headquarters.”
While Theresa was being questioned, her sister Delia’s boyfriend, Willie Lee Haynie, was undergoing interrogation. Haynie admitted giving Duane Peak a ride with a suitcase to the alley behind Ohio Street near the bombing site but said he had no knowledge of any bomb.
The police report goes on with Haynie’s story, “when he got up the next morning he did hear PEAK, Donald, negro male, 20 years, and PEAK, Duane, laughing and talking about the bombing and stated that [Minard] had got blowed up and how many they sent to the hospital, both were making jokes about this incident.”
|National Committee to Combat Fascism Members|
Chairman of the National Committee to Combat Fascism Ed Poindexter was also arrested. The headquarters of the Black Panther affiliate chapter was raided that same day.
Poindexter had been subjected to regular police harassment and talks candidly about the experience: “Part of the COINTELPRO project was to harass party members around the clock seven days a week. Never let up, try to break us or cause us to snap or drop out under the pressure.”
"At no time, not a single day went by that the police didn’t threaten to kill us…I would be careful not to be at the same place every night, to be so predictable that they could pull the same stunt they did on Fred Hampton on me.”
If the two Black Panther leaders were to be convicted they would need to be implicated by Duane Peak and tied to the crime by some type of physical evidence.
On the evening of August 22, Mondo we Langa’s home was raided and dynamite was purportedly found in the basement by detective Jack Swanson, the OPD liaison with the FBI. Mondo was in Kansas City speaking at a rally for Black Panther Pete O’Neal who was facing federal gun charges brought by ATF agent Moore over the transport of a shotgun over state lines.
The search of Mondo’shouse began with a canvass for Duane Peak and grew into a hunt for explosives. The police attempted to explain the search of the dwelling by claiming they had gotten a lead from Peak’s family.
Mondo we Langa denies any dynamite was ever in his home: “Swanson says that when he and the other cops showed up at the house the door was open and the lights were on. I don’t really have a clue yet exactly what happened but apparently what happened is police went through the house but did not have a search warrant, that we know, they did not have a search warrant, what they had was an arrest warrant for Duane Peak. Aside from the fact he was in the party or associated with it, they had no reason to look for Duane Peak at my house. Duane Peak was 15 years old. He wasn’t somebody I hung with.”
“It is interesting to say the least that the police say we found dynamite in the basement next to the furnace. But they took a picture, they took a photograph of my basement. There is not dynamite in the photograph. But they also took a photograph of a box of dynamite in the trunk of a police cruiser. They took a photo of my basement and they claimed there is dynamite there, why not have a photo of dynamite in the basement?”
“There are all kinds of things about the case that are really pretty basic and pretty outrageous that are part of the record that people don’t know about,” says Mondo.
While the search for Duane Peak was underway, the police had older brother Donald in custody and played for him the 911 call that sent Larry Minard to his death. Donald was interrogated in Room D of the Criminal Investigation Bureau on the 4th floor of the police headquarters. Donald told Sergeant P. Foxall that Duane admitted killing Larry Minard. Foxall played the 911 recording for Donald to see if he would identify his brother’s voice. Donald said he thought Duane was lying when he admitted killing a policeman.
In Washington D.C., FBI agent Bradley followed up on the COINTELPRO memo written three days earlier about the killer of Minard. Bradley wanted to make sure the targeted people were charged with the murder and recommended approving Young’s request to send headquarters staff to Nebraska to steer the investigation.
In a heavily redacted COINTELPRO memorandum, not released until years later, Bradley wrote to Conrad: “In referenced memorandum [8/17/70] the Director approved a request to assist the Omaha Police Department in captioned case through the use of [REDACTED].”
More redactions follow, then the memo continues: “The SAC [Special Agent-in-Charge] noted that he had been instructed by the Bureau to suggest steps of possible assistance to the Omaha Police in solving the bombings. He advised technical guidance of the type requested would provide maximum immediate assistance particularly since the [REDACTED].”
The confidential memo was sent to the same distribution list as Bradley’s earlier memorandum. The plan was reviewed by Hoover personally and the memo bears his “OK” and distinctive “H” initial.
The COINTELPRO plan to help Omaha police solve the crime by sending out headquarters staff followed the withholding of a laboratory report on the identity of the 911 caller showing the true purpose of assistance was not aiding a search for truth or to catch Larry Minard’s killer but instead was a counterintelligence operation approved by J. Edgar Hoover to bring down Poindexter and we Langa.
Also signing the memo sealing the plot to direct the course of the case was George Moore. Although not on the copy list, George Moore was the head of the Racial Intelligence division and daily helped manage the COINTELPRO operation.
Both Bradley and Conrad initialed the document. When Hoover gave his blessing to a counter-intelligence proposal his subordinates acted quickly, putting their signatures or initials in place.
Back in Omaha, the round-up of suspects continued through the weekend. On Sunday there was a rally at Kountze Park to raise bail money for those in custody. A group of 200 listened to community activist Ernie Chambers.
Just before noon at police headquarters Russell Peak, cousin of Duane, was brought in to the Room D interrogation room for questioning. Russell told the police that in the previous month Duane told him how to construct a suitcase bomb. Duane did not identify a target or discuss police officers said Russell.
Monday morning at 3:42 a.m., a week after the Omaha bombing, the math-science building at the University of Wisconsin in Madison was bombed, killing a graduate student. Recent Midwest bombings shattered the heartland in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska putting law enforcement officers and the public on edge.
While the police sweep of the Near North Side continued in Omaha, Raleigh House, the NCCF treasurer, got unusual treatment from Arthur O’Leary in the prosecutor’s office. House was arrested on a conspiracy to commit murder charge but released after one night in jail on a signature bond by O’Leary who refused comment on the reason for House’s release.
Meanwhile, Hoover got around to reviewing the COINTELPRO action being planned against Ed Poindexter that was proposed before Larry Minard’s murder. On August 15, 1970, Paul Young wrote to Hoover proposing to exploit an article in the Omaha World Herald about the local Black Panther chapter. Young wanted to get Poindexter in trouble with the national headquarters for his purported cooperation with “Whitey’s newspaper,” the Omaha World-Herald.
Hoover gave approval to the bogus letter plan but advised: “It is suggested you include several misspellings to make the letter appear more authentic….Take the usual security precautions to insure this letter and mailing cannot be traced to the Bureau.”
Hoover concluded his authorization, “This should be an excellent disruption technique.”
On Friday, August 28, 1970, Duane Peak now in custody and following a visit from his grandfather, Rev. Goodlett Foster, and his father, Donald Peak Sr. gave a statement to Sergeant Foxall at police headquarters. Foxall’s report of the interview was made out at 3:20 p.m.
Peak claimed he had a desk at NCCF headquarters and dropped by Sunday afternoon before the bombing. Peak told Foxall that he found a white envelope addressed to him in green ink. Peak said that inside was a note that said: “DON’T TELL ANYONE ABOUT THE NOTE. KEEP IT QUIET. A TOP SECRET.”
Peak’s secret note gave him instructions to go to Lothrop Drug Store and pick up a suitcase that contained “highly classed confidential papers” which he was directed to deliver to an alley behind a house between Lake and Ohio Streets. Peak claimed the note then instructed him to a phone booth on 24h Street where he was told to burn the note.
Peak said when he got to the phone booth at 2 a.m. the phone rang and a woman’s voice told him to call police and report a woman screaming. Peak said the woman told him to forget he ever saw a suitcase and hung up.
Foxall’s report continues, “DUANE said that he made the call but he used a different tone of voice.”
On September 5, Sgt. Robert Pfeffer went to the Dodge County Jail to interview Duane Peak. Peak’s lawyer, Thomas Carey, had talked with Lt. Perry and said that Duane had information for police. Peak told Pfeffer that Ed Poindexter approached him on August 10 with a “beautiful plan to blow up a pig.”
Peak said that Poindexter met him at Frank Peak Jr.’s house. Frank, a cousin of Duane, was the defense captain of the NCCF. A man named Raleigh House brought Poindexter over to Frank’s house at 9:30 p.m. according to Peak. From there Peak, Poindexter and House drove to Mondo we Langa’s home where Poindexter got out, according to Peak.
Peak then went with Raleigh House to pick up dynamite and a suitcase and returned to Mondo’shouse where the bomb was assembled by Ed Poindexter according to Pfeffer’s report.
Pfeffer wrote that Peak said that Poindexter “told me that he couldn’t plant the bomb, because they had his description and would know that he was the one who did it, so he asked me to do it, and he told me how to do it.”
Duane Peak said he waited several days before following the order allegedly given him by Ed Poindexter. Peak claimed he was given a ride to Mondo’s house by a white woman, Norma Aufrecht, who also gave him a ride with the suitcase bomb after he picked it up.
Norma Aufrecht, a Black Panther supporter, would sometimes give party members rides in her father’s car. When police searched her residence some of Duane Peak’s clothing was found. Aufrecht was arrested during the sweep following the bombing but was released for insufficient evidence.
On October 12, 1970, William Sullivan, made his only public statement on the Omaha Two case.
Sullivan monitored COINTELPRO daily for Hoover and was on the copy list of the COINTELPRO memos involving the Omaha Two. Sullivan’s remarks came up in a rare public speech to a United Press International conference.
Sullivan falsely denied any FBI role in any conspiracy against the Black Panthers. About Minard’s death, Sullivan said to the gathered reporters and correspondents: “On August 12, 1970 [sic] an Omaha, Nebraska police officer was literally blasted to death by an explosive device placed in a suitcase in an abandoned residence. The officer had been summoned by an anonymous telephone complaint that a woman was being beated [sic] there. An individual with Panther associations has been charged with this crime.”
Sullivan went on describing a variety of violent acts for which he blamed the Black Panthers, including the deaths of rival group members that later would be discovered to be COINTELPRO-instigated shootings. Sullivan dismissed the growing body of evidence that there was some sort of coordinated national effort against the Black Panthers that used illegal tactics.
“Panther cries of repression at the hands of a government “conspiracy” receive the sympathy not only of adherents to totalitarian ideologies, but also of those willing to close their eyes to even the violent nature of hoodlum “revolutionary” acts,” said Sullivan.
The next day Paul Young, at the Omaha FBI office, sent a COINTELPRO memo to J. Edgar Hoover following up on the 911 recording of Larry Minard’s fatal caller he had sent to the FBI Laboratory.
Young updated Hoover on the case: “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 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.”
The COINTELPRO memo continued, “…no further efforts are being made at this time to secure additional recordings of the original telephone call.”
Meanwhile, in New York, FBI agents located Angela Davis and arrested her for the Marin County jailbreak in California. Davis would remain jailed for months awaiting trial where she was found not guilty while at the same time in Omaha the two Panther leaders sat in jail.
The day after Young’s memo to Hoover about the 911 tape, Murdock Platner was in Washington, D.C. to testify before U.S. House Committee on Internal Security about the Omaha Two case. Platner was under oath and testified to a different source for the dynamite than that alleged by Duane Peak at the preliminary hearing two weeks earlier.
Peak’s story was that Black Panther treasurer Raleigh House, who was never prosecuted, was the supplier of the dynamite that killed Minard. Captain Platner told a different story to the Committee:
“Duane Peak, a [now] 16-year-old boy who was arrested, testified in a preliminary hearing. It is from this preliminary hearing you are bound over to the district court to stand trial. In the preliminary hearing he testified that David Rice [Mondo we Langa] brought a suitcase filled with dynamite to his house or to somebody’s house, I’m not for sure just which place; that they removed all the dynamite from the suitcase except three sticks, made the bomb, the triggering device, and so on, and put it together; and then packed the suitcase with newspapers and that he left with this suitcase.”
Platner continued his testimony: "On July 28, 1970, three young Negroes, one who is an ex-Panther, were arrested with 41 2 ½ inch by 16-inch sticks of dynamite in the car. This is also similar to the dynamite taken in burglary in Des Moines of Quick Supply."
Platner then quit answering questions from the Committee, "Now I am a little hesitant to go into the rest of this because there is a trial yet to be held. I don't know what I should say."
Platner would also travel to Washington to testify before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee where he would tell a similar story but with different amounts of dynamite confiscated by police from the three men detective Jack Swanson was investigating from the July arrests.
Neither of Platner’s trips, nor his conflicting dynamite testimony, was ever reported by the Omaha news media or mentioned in the trial of Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa.
At the April 1971 murder trial the jury never heard the 911 recording of Minard’s killer. Duane Peak alleged he planted the bomb and made the anonymous phone call. Peak testified he was supplied with the dynamite by Raleigh House and claimed the bomb was constructed at Mondo we Langa’s home under orders of Ed Poindexter.
Norma Aufrecht moved from Omaha soon after her release from jail and was not called to testify at the murder trial about Duane Peak’s clothing found at her residence or Peak’s claim she gave him a ride to Mondo we Langa’s house.
The jury never knew that three men had been arrested several weeks earlier in the city before the bombing with a cache of stolen dynamite in their car.
Nor did the jury know the detective in charge of the seized explosives later allegedly found dynamite in the Minard case. The jury was also not told that Captain Platner testified twice in Washington, D.C.to two different Congressional committees about the dynamite, leaving dynamite unaccounted for by giving a different amount seized in his two versions.
Jack Swanson was the star police witness against the two Panthers at trial with his claim of discovery of dynamite in the basement of Mondo we Langa’s residence. Swanson's claim was supported by fellow detective Robert Pfeffer who testified he first saw the dynamite when Swanson carried it up the stairs from Mondo's basement. Pfeffer has since contradicted his own trial testimony and now claims under oath that he, not Swanson, found the dynamite.
Lieutenant James Perry testified Peak’s sister Delia said the teenager might be found there.
Perry’s testimony was carefully reviewed by U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom in a later appeal by Mondo we Langa. Judge Urbom dismissed the police story: “Lt. Perry’s testimony that Delia Peak told him that Duane Peak, Edward Poindexter and David Rice [Mondo we Langa] were constant companions is in no way corroborated by the remainder of the record before me.”
Judge Urbom concluded the police account of the search warrant was unreliable. “On the basis of the entire record before this court and having heard and seen Lt. Perry testify, it is impossible for me to credit his testimony.”
Jack Swanson’s role in the Minard case was good for his career. On November 26, 1972, he was promoted to lieutenant and was again promoted on August 22, 1975 to Deputy Chief of Police. In 1981 Swanson was named Chief of Police in Omaha.
Raleigh House was never prosecuted for supplying Peak with the dynamite, adding to speculation he was the FBI’s informer inside the Panther group because of his get-out-of-jail free treatment in the police dragnet after the bombing.
Luther Payne, Lamont Mitchell, and Conrad Gray all quietly had their dynamite possession charges dropped a week after the murder trial ended.
Duane Peak made a deal with prosecutors, escaping punishment as an adult and walked free from juvenile detention when he turned 18 years old. Peak is now living on the West Coast under the name Gabriel Peak and refuses all comment on the case. Arthur O’Leary confirmed the deal with Peak in an interview with the Washington Post on January 8, 1978.
COINTELPRO was officially terminated 10 days after the Omaha Two were convicted, following disclosure of secret FBI files after a March 8, 1971 break-in of the Media, Pennsylvania satellite FBI office.
A group of unidentified activists called the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI made their way under the cover of darkness with crowbars into the non-alarmed second-floor office and emptied desks and file cabinets, including 1,000 classified documents.
Hoover was furious and ordered chief inspector Mark Felt, Watergate’s “Deep Throat,” to go to Media and get a first hand report. Despite an intense effort for a year with a massive investigation to catch the burglars, the crime was never solved. Meanwhile, the activists were busy leaking the documents to media and government officials.
By the end of March, COINTELPRO’s dirty tricks were coming to light despite Attorney General John Mitchell’s efforts to muzzle the national news media. Hoover kept the lid on his counterintelligence operation during the Omaha Two trial before cancelling the clandestine operation late in April. The jury never knew of COINTELPRO’s existence or that Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa were personal targets of J. Edgar Hoover.
J. Edgar Hoover died on May 2, 1972 without ever making a public statement about his role in letting one of Larry Minard’s killers escape justice.
Also unknown to the jurors, Arthur O’Leary, the chief courtroom prosecutor who stood before them, did not care about the truth. The transcript from an interrogation of Peak by O’Leary soon after Peak’s arrest reveals the prosecutor said, “As a practical matter, it doesn’t make any difference what the truth is concerning you at all.”
O’ Leary continued, “You realize now that it doesn’t make any difference whether you did or didn’t. That doesn’t really make one bit of difference at all at this stage of the game but I want to make sure concerning somebody else that might have been involved. Because you see what it amounts to, Duane, is that eventually you are going to have to testify about everything you said here and it isn’t going to make one bit of difference whether or not you leave out one fact or not, as far as you are concerned. Do you understand what I am trying to tell you?”
Peak got O’Leary’s message and after a half-dozen different versions of his story finally implicated the two Panther leaders. In the solitude of his jail cell, the young killer would express remorse in a letter to a relative, intercepted by his jailers but kept from the defense attorneys at trial. The letter would later emerge and become part of the appellate court record.
Peak wrote: “The Lord knows I tried but something happened which forced me to realize that I had no alternative but to say what I said. No matter what anyone says from now on I refuse to call myself a man, or anything close to a man because I did what I did. Even though there was no other way, because they already had enough evidence to convict those other two bloods.”
Peak continued his lament: “I not only turned against those two bloods but I turned against myself and my own people. I could have denied everything and all three of us would have gone up to the chair. And then again if I denied everything one of those other bloods would have gave them a story and sent me and the other dude up.”
At Dune Peak’s preliminary hearing in September he refused to implicate Ed Poindexter or Mondo we Langa. The prosecution called for an early recess to the morning hearing. When the session reconvened after the lunch hour Peak returned to the witness stand wearing sunglasses and shaking nervously. When defense counsel David Herzog had Peak remove his sunglasses his eyes were red and puffy. The courtroom testimony follows:
Defense Attorney: What happened to make you shake and bring your nervous condition about now?
Duane Peak: I don’t know.
Defense Attorney: You had a conversation between the time you were placed on the witness stand this morning and the present time now, isn’t that correct?
Duane Peak: Yes.
Defense Attorney: And there were the same things that the police officers told you about what would happen to you, like sitting in the electric chair, isn’t that correct?
Duane Peak: I didn’t have a chance.
Defense Attorney: You didn’t have a chance did you?
Duane Peak: No.
Defense Attorney: You are doing what they want you to do, aren’t you?
Duane Peak: Yes.
In California on June 5, 1972, Angela Davis was found not guilty of involvement in the Marin County jailbreak but her experience in jail gave her a connection with Black Panthers arrested under COINTELPRO, in particular the Omaha Two, who she says should be released.
Geronimo Pratt did not fare as well. On July 28, 1972, Pratt was convicted in Los Angeles of the December 18, 1968 shooting of Caroline Olsen during a robbery. Pratt was fingered by a FBI informant, Julius Carl Butler. Pratt’s alibi was he was in Oakland attending a Black Panther meeting which was corroborated by Kathleen Cleaver. Pratt sought FBI wiretap records which also could confirm his innocence of the robbery-murder by establishing his presence in Oakland. Pratt was falsely told by the FBI that wiretap transcripts were “lost or destroyed” and during the trial it was denied that he was a COINTELPRO target.
Geronimo Pratt was finally released after 27 years in prison, eight years of it in solitary confinement, when his conviction was vacated on June 10, 1997 over FBI and prosecutorial misconduct withholding relevant information about the FBI informant and targeting of Pratt. Pratt later won $4.5 million dollar lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department and FBI for false imprisonment.
Ivan Willard Conrad resigned from the FBI on July 12, 1973. In December 1975, Conrad was questioned over missing FBI laboratory equipment and initially denied any knowledge. Conrad then changed his story and returned $20,000 worth of equipment. The disgraced former lab director escaped prosecution because of the statute of limitations and paid the FBI $1,500 for use of the equipment.
On July 5, 1974, U.S. District Judge Warren Urbom ordered a new trial in the Minard case, tossing out the dynamite evidence allegedly found by Swanson in Mondo we Langa’s home. The state appealed.
The Eighth Circuit U. S. Court of Appeals had a three-judge panel review the case and they unanimously upheld Judge Urbom’s ruling. The federal appellate court wrote: “Testimony before Judge Urbom suggests that the purpose of searching for explosives was an afterthought conceived after the police arrived at the house, rather than an urgent emergency, and that they decided to apply for a warrant to search for explosives in the petitioner’s house only because they had not discovered dynamite in any of the other locations they had searched earlier in the day.”
The court continued: “We consider it necessary to point out that the record discloses a widespread search for the suspects Peak and Poindexter and which evinced at least a negligent disregard by the Omaha police for the constitutional rights of not only petitioner but possibly other citizens as well.”
With four federal judges now calling for a new trial, the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The appeal arrived at the court as Warren Burger, the chief justice appointed by Richard Nixon before the President resigned in disgrace over Watergate. Burger was busy seeking to overturn earlier decisions of his predecessor, Earl Warren. Mondo’s case was consolidated with another murder appeal, Stone v. Powell.
However, judicial scrutiny of the facts of the case was over, the two political prisoners of J. Edgar Hoover next had their case examined by the nation’s highest court through a political lens. Time magazine called the case “important” and described the jockeying of the justices in a campaign over rights of criminal defendants. Authors Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong discuss Stone v. Powell in their book, The Brethren, “To Burger, these seemed perfect cases: two murderers were trying to overturn their convictions by raising technical Fourth Amendment claims.”
Woodward and Armstrong continued, “Under the Constitution, any state prisoner has a right to petition the federal courts for a writ of habeas corpus, which required the state to show that the imprisonment did not violate the federal Constitution.”
The authors wrote: “Burger had long wanted to cut off habeas petitions on Fourth Amendment claims. He believed they were almost always frivolous, and they clogged the federal courts. To preclude such petitions – and to overrule an important Warren Court precedent – would be a major victory.”
The Supreme Court refused to hear the merits of the case, creating new restrictive precedent for prisoner appeals and returned the matter to Nebraska courts where the outcome was already foreshadowedby media attention hostile to the Black Panthers. No new trial was ever granted despite requests from both convicted men and the revelation of manipulation of evidence by J. Edgar Hoover.
The U.S. Senate appointed a committee to investigate the intelligence agencies of the United States. The sub-committee of the Judiciary Committee was chaired by Frank Church [D-Idaho] which became known as the Church Committee.
The Church Committee conducted an investigation and issued a damning report on the practices of the nation’s intelligence agencies. COINTELPRO got particular attention and illegal actions of the FBI were documented.
The Church Committee concluded in part: “Legal issues were often overlooked by many of the intelligence officers who directed these operations. Some held a pragmatic view of intelligence activities that did not regularly attach sufficient significance to questions of legality. The question raised was usually not whether a particular program was legal or ethical, but whether it worked.”
The full story of COINTELPRO will never be known. Neither Congress nor the courts seized the COINTELPRO files and they were left in the custody of the FBI which began destruction of the incriminating documents after 20 years with many never seeing the light of day.
Over the years Angela Davis continues to make trips to Nebraska to visit the Omaha Two. Actor Danny Glover has also made the trip to Lincoln and has called for the release of the two former Panther leaders. A citizen group, Nebraskans for Justice, formed to support a legal battle for a new trial.
Lincoln attorney Robert Bartle, head of the Nebraska Bar Association, has worked for a half-decade to obtain a new trial untainted by COINTELPRO manipulation. Omaha attorney Tim Ashford, who grew up on Ohio Street a few blocks from the murder scene, has joined the effort to secure a fair trial. Bartle represents Ed Poindexter and Ashford represents Mondo we Langa.
Robert Bartle says: “The whole COINTELPRO operation under the late J. Edgar Hoover’s administration was unknown to the folks at the time. The whole COINTELPRO focus on Ed and Mondo…and the efforts to discredit them in the Omaha community were a separate conspiratorial operation that was not known to either Ed or Mondo.”
Bartle continues: “The fact that the tape was withheld from the defense at the time and the fact that the FBI under the auspices of the COINTELPRO program, first offering to do a voice analysis and then retreated from that position because it might prejudice the prosecution we believe is critical information…that would likely have led to an acquittal in this case.”
Tim Ashford is sharp with his criticism of COINTELPRO, “They withheld, the FBI, the mighty FBI, withheld a memo regarding the 911 tape…these are political prisoners."
The recording of the 911 call that lured Larry Minard to his death was destroyed by Lt. James Perry several years after the trial without the jury that convicted the Panther leaders ever hearing the voice of the deadly caller.
Years after the murder trial, a copy of the 911 call was found in the personal effects of a deceased police dispatcher who had secretly made a copy of the recording.
In 2006 and 2007 the tape was subjected to sophisticated scientific analysis by audio forensics expert Tom Owen. Owen is an internationally recognized analyst and he listened to exemplars of the 911 call and a contemporary recording of Duane Peak repeating the same words.
Owen, who frequently works for the prosecution and conducts professional seminars for police on voice analysis, concluded the voice on the 911 call was not that of 15 year-old Duane Peak. The Omaha World-Herald described the voice as “deep and drawling.”
|The Nebraska State Penitentiary|
Owen testified in May 2007 that the voices did not match with a detailed phrase-by-phrase courtroom explanation of the discrepancies. However, Judge Russell Bowie denied a new trial in a decision that was upheld by the Nebraska Supreme Court. Despite the new forensic evidence about the identity of the 911 caller, federal courts have declined review because both prisoners have exhausted their appeal rights during their lengthy incarceration.
The anonymous 911 caller is still unidentified and at large with Donald Peak considered a prime suspect by a number of people familiar with the case.
At the time of trial, Nebraska law had the jury determine both guilt or innocence and the sentence. Prosecutors sought the death penalty for the two Panther leaders but the 11 white and one black juror opted for life sentences instead. Some observers attributed the sentence to the lone black juror while others felt the outcome reflected doubt in the minds of the jurors. The impassioned closing arguments by Public Defender Frank Morrison have also been credited for the jury’s refusal to execute.
Morrison, a former three-term governor of Nebraska, later described the verdict as the biggest disappointment of his legal career: “As a citizen, as 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.”
Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa remain imprisoned at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary serving life sentences, while they continue to deny any role in the fatal bombing.
Mondo we Langa explains his situation: “We didn’t know about COINTELPRO…but what we did know in the party is that in ’69 Fred Hampton and Mark Clark had been murdered by the police in Chicago. We knew that all over the country Panthers were being targeted by the police, the FBI and so forth. Even though we didn’t know about the existence of COINTELPRO we did know that some things were going on that shouldn’t have been going on in a supposed democracy. It is about paranoia. And when you think about it the U.S. government had a right to be paranoid. They were doing wrong to people every day.”
|Mondo we Langa June 2008|
“But there were a couple of agendas working hand in hand. One, you had the Omaha Police Department. Two, you had the FBI. Now the FBI’s agenda was probably more related to the destruction of the Black Panther Party solely. The Omaha Police had that as part of their agenda as well as finding the killer or killers of Minard. You can believe those cops wanted somebody. But when you put the two agendas together, that is where we ended up. Somebody had to pay for Minard’s killing, so they got that taken care of. At the same time they were able to essentially kill the head so the body would die.”
Ed Poindexter says simply, “I have been unjustly accused of a crime I had nothing to do with.”
Author’s note: Elmer Geronimo Pratt changed his name to Geronimo Ji Jaga but Pratt has been used in the article to avoid reader confusion. David L. Rice changed his name while in prison to Wopashitwe Eyen Mondo we Langa which has been shortened to Mondo we Langa for reader convenience. Mondo’s new name combines four African languages and means “natural man”.
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