May 25, 2007
1970 murder retrial hearing resumes next week after contradictory police testimony against Black
Panther Ed Poindexter
By Michael Richardson
Ed Poindexter will once again be transported from his prison cell at the Nebraska State
Penitentiary to the Douglas County Courthouse to witness another day of testimony in his effort to
obtain a new trial for the 1970 murder of Omaha policeman Larry Minard.
Minard was the victim of a homemade suitcase bomb designed to kill police responding to an
emergency call about a woman screaming in a vacant house. Poindexter was the head of a Black
Panther spin-off group called the National Committee to Combat Fascism (NCCF) and engaged in a war
of words with police. Omaha was an emotionally-charged city following the killing of 14 year-old
Vivian Strong by police a year earlier and Poindexter had emerged as one of the most vocal critics
of the shooting death.
Although police arrested 15 year-old Duane Peak, who confessed to the bombing, in a weeklong
dragnet that rounded up dozens of people for questioning and ended up with the arrests of 14
persons, the two men the police were most interested in were Poindexter and David Rice. Rice,
NCCF Minister of Information, has since changed his name and is now Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we
Convicted in 1971 for the bombing murder, the two NCCF leaders have been in prison serving life
sentences. Peak, who obtained a deal that got him sentenced as a juvenile, testified against
Poindexter and Langa. Peak alleged the pair made the bomb he planted in the vacant house. Peak
also claimed he made the emergency call that lured police into the deadly trap.
Earlier this month vocal analyst Tom Owen testified that Peak did not make the call after studying
a copy of the emergency call. The original tape was never used at trial and ended up missing.
However, a duplicate tape later surfaced as did a secret FBI memo warning the tape would hurt the
prosecution's case. When Owen played the tape earlier this month, the voice that chilled the
courtroom did not sound like Peak's voice.
The FBI was involved in the case soon after the explosion. An illegal FBI operation called
COINTELPRO was underway across the nation targeted at the Black Panthers and other groups. FBI
memos, released under Freedom of Information requests, reveal a close involvement in building the
case against Poindexter and Langa. COINTELPRO agents, the public would later learn, assisted
local police in obtaining convictions encouraging withholding of evidence, witness manipulation,
and other illegal activities.
The two Omaha investigators most responsible for the arrest of Poindexter and Langa are Jack
Swanson and Robert Pheffer,
Swanson, now deceased, made up a list of 39 members of the NCCF for the police dragnet. Swanson
was on hand when it was time to search Langa's house for Duane Peak, then at large. At the trial
Swanson was the one who found dynamite in the basement and carried it upstairs to a waiting car
trunk. The car trunk is the first place an official crime scene photograph pictures the dynamite.
Swanson also gave a curious BBC interview in the early 1990's where he said he felt he still did
the right thing in 1970 and that the arrest of Poindexter and Langa ended the Black Panthers in
Pheffer, now retired, testified at the trial that he saw Swanson carry the dynamite out of the
basement. However, earlier this month Pheffer contradicted his own trial testimony and claimed he
found the dynamite not Swanson. Pheffer, visibly agitated during cross examination, not only
changed his story but added to it with considerable new information. Pheffer now claims he also
found three suitcases with wires in Langa's house. The suitcases now claimed to have been found
by Pheffer were never introduced at trial, never mentioned in any police report at the time, and
were not listed on a police inventory of the house following the search.
Peak's juvenile sentencing deal, the voice discrepancy on the emergency tape and the conflicting
dynamite testimony of detective Pheffer, in combination with known COINTELPRO tactics, all raise
serious questions about the guilt of the convicted men who have steadfastly maintained their
After more testimony next week, Judge Russell Bowie will decide on Poindexter's request for a new
trial. Langa's conviction was overturned by both a federal district court and appellate court.
However, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the case returned to Nebraska courts where the Nebraska
Supreme Court said Langa's appeal time lapsed while the case was in federal court.
Authors Bio: Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about
politics, election law, human nutrition, ethics, and music. In 2004 Richardson was Ralph Nader's
national ballot access coordinator.
Richardson has written extensively on this case, and his past articles on the case are available