Preston Love, Chairman of Black Votes Matter, appeared before the Nebraska Pardon Board and requested the release of Ed Poindexter from the Nebraska State Penitentiary where he is serving a life sentence for the 1970 murder of an Omaha policeman. Poindexter, former head of Omaha’s Black Panther affiliate chapter called the National Committee to Combat Fascism, was convicted at a controversial trial in 1971 for the bombing death of Patrolman Larry Minard.
Poindexter had been targeted by Operation COINTELPRO, an illegal program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and was convicted after the FBI Laboratory withheld a report on the identity of an anonymous caller who lured Minard to his death in a bomb ambush at a vacant house. The confessed bomber, Duane Peak, never served a day in prison in exchange for implicating Poindexter who steadfastly maintains his innocence. The trial was marred by conflicting police testimony and six different versions of Peak’s confession.
Love and six other people addressed the Pardon Board comprised of Governor Pete Ricketts, Attorney General Doug Peterson, and Secretary of State Bob Evnen.
Love told the panel, “I am not here to argue the innocence, or guilt, of Ed Poindexter. I am here to appeal to common sense, decency and humanity.”
“Here we are, in 2020, with a call for reform and change, and the reality of aggravated policing, and the anger and hurt of the African American community.”
“Fifty years ago, in 1970, we were in the same place, with calls for reform and change, anger and rage. May I remind you, that in 1969, a policeman murdered a 14 year-old Black girl, Vivian Strong. We painfully remember that, we have moved on.”
The shooting death of Strong triggered a three-day riot in North Omaha. Poindexter, then active in the Black Panther Party, helped protect local residents with a community safe house when police refused to patrol the ravaged neighborhood. The Panthers received a commendation from the Greater Omaha Community Action agency for their efforts. Patrolman James Loder, who killed the teen with a bullet in the back of her head, was later acquitted of manslaughter although fired from the police department.
Love spoke quietly, “Mr. Poindexter and I grew up together in the segregated and red-lined Logan Fontenelle public housing complex in the 50’s. Ed Poindexter has paid a debt with his entire adult life, whether or not he is guilty of the crime, he has paid a debt. He is no threat to society. I appeal to humanity, the human side of this parole board.”
“I hope that this parole board will recognize that his parole board is not isolated from the realities of this complex world and a benevolent release will go a long way in mending the racial division in our community.”
Omaha physician Diane Topolski spoke about the need for justice. “Ed did not receive a fair trial in 1971 and was wrongly convicted of a crime in which he had no involvement. In 2020, it is too late for justice. Not only that, but, at 75 years old, with ailing health in the setting of a pandemic, Ed can’t wait any longer. Thus, I stand before you today requesting a commutation of sentence.”
“If I were in your position, especially in light of recent events, I would find it quite relevant to consider the possibility that an innocent Black man, aptly referred to as a political prisoner by an Amnesty International working group in 1978, is coming up on his 50th anniversary of incarceration.”
“The Parole Board unanimously recommended commutation of sentence based on excellent behavior, accomplishments and recommendations as early as 1993. Ed’s behavior, accomplishments and recommendations haven’t become any less excellent, impressive or positive in the last 27 years.”
“Ed is 75 years old with multiple life-limiting medical conditions and resides in a high-risk residential facility in the setting of a global pandemic. He is at increased risk of death if he were to contract COVID-19. I hope you appreciate the sense of urgency associated with this decision.”
“Finally, if I could borrow the words of former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who, after visiting Ed and Mondo in 2012, stated “I think these two men are certainly innocent of the acts for which they’ve been accused and by our system convicted. But I don’t think that’s the real question. The real question is – what kind of people are we that we would incarcerate two such valuable citizens for life?” He went on to say “If you could see them, you would be inspired. When you see someone who has been in there a long time who still understands who he is….They are our hope.”
“Governor, Attorney General, Secretary – you are Ed’s last hope.”
For more information see FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story, in print edition at Amazon and in ebook. Portions of the book may be read free online at NorthOmahaHistory.com. The book is also available to patrons of the Omaha Public Library.