Omaha detective Jack Swanson’s testimony about discovery of dynamite was contradicted by another detective in Edward Poindexter murder trial. (credit: Nebraskans for Justice)
Fifty years ago, April 8,1971, Omaha detective Jack Swanson was called to testify in the murder trial of Edward Poindexter and David Rice (later Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa). The two men were leaders of the local Black Panther affiliate group, the National Committee to Combat Fascism, and accused of the bombing murder of Patrolman Larry Minard, killed at a vacant house on the Near Northside on August 17, 1970.
Swanson, a sergeant in charge of the Intelligence Unit, was the police liaison with Federal Bureau of Investigation which was directing clandestine counterintelligence actions against the pair. Assistant prosecutor Sam Cooper asked Swanson about dynamite he claimed he removed from Mondo’s basement. Swanson said samples of the dynamite were taken by Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms Division agent Thomas Sledge after it was transported to the detective bureau. Assistant Public Defender Thomas Kenney asked Swanson to refresh his testimony about where he found the dynamite in the basement.
“No, it wasn’t in a hole dug in a wall, it was just a place that didn’t go all the way down to the floor but there was—like starting right here, there was a place where you could store different things back there. When you looked back in this space, you could see it.”
Swanson answered that he was the first one to find the dynamite then listed others present. “As I recall, it may have been Sgt. Pfeffer or Agent Sledge from the Alcohol, Firearms Division. I couldn’t tell you for sure. I informed someone that I thought we had some dynamite in the basement. Well, there were at least four or five other parties because we examined this carefully before we moved it. We were looking for the possibility of a–that there might have been wire or something. It wasn’t moved for at least ten or fifteen minutes after we discovered it.”
Asked again who saw the dynamite before it was removed, Swanson tightened his answer. “Well, Agent Curd was there and Sledge and Bob Pfeffer.”
Cooper questioned Robert Pfeffer next . When asked about dynamite, Pfeffer quickly answered, “Sgt. Jack Swanson found the dynamite.”
Kenney asked Pfeffer when he first saw the dynamite. “When Sgt. Swanson carried the box up from the basement of the Rice house.” Kenney then asked if Pfeffer ever saw the dynamite in the basement. Pfeffer contradicted the testimony of Jack Swanson, “No, I never went down.”
Pfeffer was asked to read a supplemental report he wrote on the search of Mondo’s house where the dynamite “was in the basement hidden under a wooden door.”
Poindexter and Mondo were convicted of murder, in part because of the dynamite allegedly found in Mondo’s basement. Swanson was soon rewarded for his testimony against the pair and promoted to lieutenant and eventually served briefly as Chief of Police.
In 2007, in a post-trial hearing, Robert Pfeffer returned to the witness stand. Pfeffer claimed he found dynamite in Mondo’s basement, not Jack Swanson as he testified at trial. When confronted with his contradictory testimony, Pfeffer became enraged and claimed he was misquoted by the court reporter. Pfeffer also claimed he found three suitcases with wires sticking out of them during the search of Mondo’s house and described dragging the three suitcases with a rope through the handles. Pfeffer could not account how no police report or other witness confirmed the three suitcases or why they were not seized as evidence.
During the trial defense attorneys did not challenge the contradictory testimony of Swanson and Pfeffer despite the obvious conclusion at least one of them was lying. In 2007, when Pfeffer contradicted his own trial testimony nothing was done; Poindexter was denied a new trial and Pfeffer faced no perjury charges.
Mondo passed to the ancestors in March 2016 at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Poindexter remains imprisoned at the maximum-security prison fifty years after the lies told about dynamite went unchallenged. Poindexter, who continues to maintain his innocence, has a pending commutation of sentence request with the Nebraska Board of Pardons but the board, chaired by Governor Pete Ricketts, refuses to give him a hearing date.
This article is 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.