Fifty years ago, on September 28, 1970, Duane Peak, the teen-age star witness against Black Panther leaders Edward Poindexter and David Rice (later Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa) committed perjury. Peak told two contradictory stories under oath to an Omaha judge about the involvement of the two men in the bombing murder of Patrolman Larry Minard. County Attorney Donald Knowles and Arthur O’Leary represented the prosecution, Public Defender A.Q. Wolf and Thomas Kenney represented Poindexter, with David Herzog representing Rice.
Duane Peak was called to testify. Herzog immediately objected to any testimony by Peak because he was a co-defendant, unreliable, and a minor. The judge overruled the objection stating he did not know anything about Peak. “I have no charge against this young man so I don’t know anything about him.”
O’Leary asked Peak about seeing Ed Poindexter a week before the murder. Peak couldn’t remember. “I don’t think I remember seeing him.”
Peak also couldn’t remember seeing Poindexter at the American Legion on the Friday before the bombing. Peak couldn’t remember giving a deposition to O’Leary a month earlier where he purportedly did remember. Nor did Peak remember giving O’Leary a statement during an interrogation a week earlier. Peak also claimed to not remember O’Leary’s trip to the jail in Fremont.
Knowles had enough and stopped the questioning. “I note, Your Honor, from looking around the Courtroom, that this witness’ lawyer is not here. I would like your permission for a continuance to the time that we can get his lawyer here. I think he should be here with him.”
When the preliminary hearing resumed Donald Knowles made a statement, apparently because Peak was still not ready to cooperate with the prosecution. “I understand that the Court’s ruling was that we were allowed to withdraw the witness that was on the stand this morning due to the fact that he had taken us by surprise and we are allowed to proceed now with other witnesses.”
Detective Jack Swanson testified his search of Mondo’s home revealed fourteen sticks of dynamite.
“I was given information by a party who had given reliable information in the past that David Rice had explosives in his house and the necessary elements to make a bomb.”
Swanson said that no one was found at or near Mondo’s house the night of the search, not mentioning the detention of Mondo’s brother Michael and a friend, or the shots fired at an unknown third person.
Swanson testified he found dynamite in the basement. “In the basement against the north wall in what you would call a kind of a cut-out in the basement down there. It was a cut-away and you had to look back in there.”
“The sticks were laid in the box and it was a dynamite box and they were just in there like they would have been shipped.”
Swanson said one suitcase was found at the residence but it was not seized as evidence.
In the afternoon Duane Peak returned to the witness stand, wearing sun glasses. The Omaha World-Herald reported that Peak’s hands trembled and his answers were whispers.
Peak admitted conferring with three people during the morning recess; his lawyer, his brother Donald, and his grandfather, Foster Goodlett. Objections were made against any further testimony by Peak because of the visits. The judge allowed Peak to testify. “The young man is represented by competent counsel and I don’t know what he advised him but he has been represented and he has also conferred with his grandfather, who is a minister and whom I have known for a long time and I don’t know what advice he gave him but your motion is overruled and we will see what the Defendant testifies to.”
In the morning session, the judge said Peak was a young man facing no known charges. Peak was now a “Defendant” in the case. Peak’s testimony also changed during the recess. Now Peak remembered a conversation outside NCCF headquarters with Ed Poindexter about a bomb. “He called me outside and said he wanted to show me how to make a bomb.”
Peak said Poindexter told him to meet that evening at Frank Peak’s house. “He met me there with Rollie House.”
Duane claimed that from Frank’s home he went with House and Poindexter to Rice’s residence where Poindexter got out of the vehicle. “We went up to Rollie House’s house. Rollie brought a suitcase out from the house.”
Peak said House returned him to Rice’s home where Peak claimed that Poindexter opened the suitcase to reveal dynamite. “Poindexter took the dynamite out of the suitcase and put it in a box.”
Peak’s story about construction of the bomb changed from his earlier versions. Peak said he and Rice assisted Poindexter. Peak also said that Poindexter wanted to plant the bomb that night but couldn’t get a ride. According to Peak, at an encounter with Poindexter about 11:00 p.m. on Friday night at the American Legion Club, Peak was instructed to deliver the bomb to Ohio Street.
Peak said he retrieved the suitcase and took it to Olivia Norris’ house where he told his brother Donald to stay away from the suitcase. From there Peak took the suitcase to sister Delia’s apartment with sister Theresa giving him a ride. Peak claimed he examined the suitcase in the bathroom at Delia’s before she gave him a ride to Ohio Street.
Under cross-examination by Thomas Kenney, Peak admitted telling the police a different story when first questioned. Peak said he was threatened with the electric chair during his first interrogation.
David Herzog asked Peak about his arrest. Peak said he was taken to the police station where he met with police officers and one other person. “There was one from the FBI.”
“The FBI arrested me.”
Peak said police twice talked to him about being executed in the electric chair. “They said I was sitting in the electric chair so I had better tell the truth.”
“I didn’t have a chance.”
Peak admitted he had been coached about his confession by Arthur O’Leary in preparation for the hearing. Peak said his attorney was not present for the session with O’Leary. Herzog asked Peak to remove his sunglasses. Ernie Chambers was there and described the scene in an interview. “When he came back in the afternoon, his face was swollen around his eyes, he had glasses on….When Duane took his glasses off his eyes were red, you could see he had been crying, and there was an audible gasp in the courtroom.”
“His answers were scarcely audible. A young man who knew nothing about anything in the morning and suddenly gave the answers that the police, the prosecutors needed to implicate David and Ed.”
Kenney asked for a dismissal of the charges. “Your Honor, the case that the State has presented thus far was the testimony of a 16-year-old boy who admittedly was subjected to extensive psychological coercion on the part of the Omaha Police Department and therefore is unreliable.”
Herzog also sought a dismissal. “The witness has changed sides; has altered his story; has forgotten, claims to have forgotten some facts, and then comes back this afternoon and offers that testimony at the State’s own request and that witness has now impeached himself.”
“The confession itself or the statement here is of an unreliable nature; obviously coerced; obviously given under fear by the statement of the witness himself. He indicates he would give the police officer or police officers anything they wanted.”
Peak’s testimony was allowed and Poindexter and Rice were bound over for trial.
The next day, Duane Peak wrote a letter from the Dodge County Jail to Olivia Norris. In the letter Peak called Norris his “Moms” and explained the preliminary hearing testimony. Peak did not show any remorse for the death of Larry Minard but did feel bad over implicating Poindexter and Rice for possible execution.
“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. I don’t know, maybe I sound kind of nutty but that’s just the way I feel. Or maybe I’m just trying to get somebody to say what I did was justifiable, but I know it can’t be justified. 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. But neither one of those is the reason, I was scared a little but that’s not the reason,? I guess I’ll never know.? Now I have to wait until my actual trial before I find out whether I get the chair or life?”
Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa died in March 2016 at the Nebraska State Penitentiary serving his life sentence. Edward Poindexter remains imprisoned at the maximum-security prison where he continues to proclaim his innocence. Poindexter has a pending sentence commutation request with the Board of Pardons but the Board has refused to say when it will take up his case.
Excerpted from FRAMED: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two story, in print edition at Amazon and available 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.