by Michael Richardson
University of California professor and internationally acclaimed political prisoner advocate Angela Davis will make another trip to Lincoln, Nebraska to meet with Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa who are imprisoned in the state maximum security penitentiary.
Ed Poindexter, head of Omaha’s unit of the Black Panthers called the Nebraska Committee to Combat Fascism, and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) who served as the information officer of the 1970’s group are serving life sentences for the bombing murder of an Omaha policeman. Both men deny their involvement in the death of patrolman Larry Minard.
Davis, now a respected college professor and lecturer, was once a fugitive in another Black Panther case and was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation “Ten Most Wanted” list. Serving 18 months behind bars before being acquitted of participation in a California police-Panther shootout, Davis is sympathetic with targets of the FBI’s secret war on the Black Panthers called Operation COINTELPRO.
Davis was cleared of the charges against her in 1972, the year after the Omaha Two were convicted of the August 1970 murder of Minard. Unknown to the defense or public at the time of the Omaha trial was that critical evidence was withheld as part of the COINTELPRO conspiracy against Poindexter and Langa. Further, five Omaha police officers gave false sworn testimony about the case but the problems in their testimony did not emerge until years later.
J. Edgar Hoover, the powerful director of the FBI had secretly established a clandestine COINTELPRO directorate headed by William Sullivan to orchestrate dirty tricks to “disrupt” the Black Panthers. Sullivan would later testify to a U.S. Senate committee “no holds were barred” in the secret war on the Black Panthers. Tactics included encouraging local police to make raids and arrests of Panther leaders, anonymous mailings, unauthorized entries, withholding of evidence, planting of evidence, and abuse of informants.
The Omaha FBI office worked with Assistant Omaha Chief of Police Glenn Gates to withhold the tape recording of the emergency call that lured Minard to his death to keep the tape from the jury. Captain Murdock Platner testified, falsely, to the U.S. House Committee on Internal Security that Langa had supplied the dynamite used in the bomb. Lt. James Perry’s story to justify a search warrant was rejected by U.S. District Court Judge Warren Urbom who said, “[I]t is impossible for me credit his testimony.” Sgt. Jack Swanson claimed he found dynamite in Langa’s basement only to be later contradicted by Sgt. Robert Pheffer who bragged he was the one who found the dynamite incredibly contradicting his own trial testimony in a 2007 hearing.
Pheffer’s recently embellished version of events strongly suggests perjury. Not only has he now contradicted his own 1971 testimony but he is claiming to also have found bombmaking supplies (suitcases with wires) at two locations, Langa’s house and NCCF headquarters. The only catch with Pheffer’s suitcases is that they have disappeared into thin air with no other witnesses to their discovery. In fact, Pheffer’s sworn allegations of finding the suitcases were never reported by him in any police report, were not entered on the inventory sheets of the searches, never submitted to the police evidence locker, and appear in no crime scene photographs.
Davis has followed the Omaha Two case since the beginning. In 1975, Davis made a trip to Lincoln to raise money for a legal defense fund and also attended a post-conviction court hearing. In 1982, Davis appeared at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and called freedom for Poindexter and Langa as a “first priority” vowing, “We are going to continue to fight until they are both free.”
In a 2006 visit to the Nebraska State Penitentiary, Davis said, “They’ve been in prison much too long and they should be released. It makes me think about how much we are haunted by our own history.”
Davis told the Lincoln Star, “It is important for people to understand the way in which two men could basically be framed up and kept in prison for 36 years even though they’re innocent.”
The bomb that killed Larry Minard was planted by 15 year-old Duane Peak who confessed to the crime but was only sentenced to 33 months of juvenile detention in exchange for his testimony that Poindexter and Langa put him up to the crime and assisted with assembly of the bomb. Peak, in turn, testified that the dynamite was supplied by 23 year-old Raleigh House, a suspected COINTELPRO informant, who only spent one night in jail and was never formally charged for his role in the crime.
The unknown caller who lured Minard into the lethal trap was never identified after police dropped the search for the caller under orders from Asst Chief Gates. A 2006 forensic analysis of the emergency call tape revealed that Duane Peak was not the caller as he has maintained leaving an unidentified accomplice on the loose while Poindexter and Langa sit in prison.
Davis will speak to the Nebraskans for Justice on September 17, 2008 at the Malone Community Center in Lincoln. An update on the legal status of the two prisoners will also be provided. Poindexter currently has an appeal pending before the Nebraska Supreme Court seeking a new trial over Pheffer’s contradictory testimony and the vocal analysis that undermines the prosecution case. A decision is expected this fall.
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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, election law, human nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant on ballot access.