FBI sought electric chair execution of Black Panther leaders in Omaha

electric chair-DOC
Nebraska’s electric chair where the FBI sought the execution of the Omaha Two  (credit: Nebraska Dept. of Corrections)

On December 4, 1969, in a Federal Bureau of Investigation orchestrated pre-dawn raid in Chicago, Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were shot to death. Fourteen handpicked policemen, armed with twenty-seven firearms including a Thompson submachine and shotguns, converged on Hampton’s apartment at 4:45 a.m. Police fired a barrage into the quiet apartment killing the two Panther leaders and wounding all of the other occupants.

Attorney Paul Wolf has commented on a December 8, 1969 raid in Los Angeles. “Four days after a similar raid on a Panther apartment in Chicago, forty men of the Special Weapons and Tactics squad, with more than a hundred regular police as backup, raided the Los Angeles Panther headquarters at 5:30 in the morning. The Panthers chose to defend themselves, and for four hours they fought off police, refusing to surrender until press and public were on the scene. Six of them were wounded. Thirteen were arrested. Miraculously, none of them were killed.”

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. Both raids occurred in the context of an ongoing and highly energetic anti-BPP COINTELPRO, and—as in the Hampton assassination—bullets were fired directly into Pratt’s bed. Unlike the Chicago leader, however, Pratt was sleeping on the floor, the result of spinal injuries sustained in Vietnam.”

On December 10, 1969, two days after the raid in Los Angeles, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was unhappy with a lack of action in Omaha. Hoover sent a stern memorandum to Paul Young. “While the activities appear to be limited in the Omaha area, it does not necessarily follow that effective counterintelligence measures cannot be taken. As long as there are BPP activities, you should be giving consideration to that type of counterintelligence measure which would best disrupt existing activities. It would appear some type of counterintelligence aimed at disruption of the publication and distribution of their literature is in order. It is also assumed that of the eight to twelve members, one or two must surely 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.”

Young, mindful of the deadly raid in Chicago a week earlier, selected two Omaha leaders, Edward Poindexter and David Rice (later Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa) for COINTELPRO misdeeds. Young planned an ambush in Carter Lake, Iowa after being tipped by United Airlines personnel about a shipment of Black Panther newspapers arriving at Eppley Airport in Omaha. Details were never finalized as Young’s agents were unable to obtain the sought cargo information.

Young was able to satisfy Hoover’s blood lust for lethal outcomes with a plan to blame the two Panthers. Instead of gunplay to kill, Young’s counterintelligence plan would use Nebraska’s electric chair to execute the men. The Omaha Two faced death sentences at their controversial 1971 trial for the August 17, 1970 murder of Patrolman Larry Minard.

The electric chair was last previously used in 1959 to execute serial killer Charles Starkweather. It was used three times since the Minard murder trial in 1971. Nebraska abolished the death penalty in 2014 and then restored it in 2016. Nebraska executed its first prisoner by lethal injection in August 2018.

Omaha police sent the most critical piece of evidence, a 911 recording of a killer’s voice, to the FBI Laboratory for analysis to identify the anonymous caller who lured police to a bomb-rigged vacant house. However, the search for Minard’s killers was not a search for truth. Hoover ordered results of the laboratory testing squelched with no written report. The jury never heard the voice on the 911 recording, a voice that did not fit with the FBI-orchestrated prosecution scenario.

Although it took three days of deliberation to reach a verdict, the jury convicted Poindexter and Rice; however, the jury spared their lives and ruled out execution. Rice, who became Mondo in prison, died at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in March 2016. Poindexter remains imprisoned at the maximum-security prison where he continues to proclaim his innocence.

This article contains excerpts from FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story by Michael Richardson, available in print at Amazon and in ebook at Kindle. Permission granted to reprint.

Author: richardsonreports

Author of FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two Story.

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