Fifty years ago, April 17, 1971, Edward Poindexter and David Rice (later Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa) were convicted of murdering Omaha Patrolman Larry Minard and sentenced to life in prison. No one on the jury knew that the two week trial had been manipulated by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents working under a clandestine counterintelligence operation code-named COINTELPRO.
The jurors, who had deliberated for nearly twenty-five hours over a three day period, took their seats in the jury box. Judge Donald Hamilton asked the jury if a verdict had been reached. The court clerk read the decision of guilty with life sentences, first for Poindexter then for Mondo. Hamilton ordered the two defendants taken to the Nebraska State Penitentiary to serve their sentences “at hard labor.”
Mondo said in a short interview following the verdict that he “did not get a fair trial” calling the case against him a “maze of conjectures.” Mondo criticized the Omaha World Herald and local radio and television stations for slanting “towards the prosecution” in news broadcasts.
“I’m not going down to the state pen and say everything is beautiful. going to fight it and I’m going to go back onto the streets and do the same things, speaking out against the evils of the system which got me convicted.”
Ed Poindexter cursed when asked if he wished to be interviewed and he was led away without making a statement.
Within an hour after the jury found them guilty, Mondo and Poindexter where taken from the Douglas County Jail where they had been held since August 1970 and transported to prison in Lincoln to begin serving life sentences at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. The two men were shackled and each taken in separate cars.
Following the trial, the jury foreman whom Poindexter accused of sleeping during the trial, Myron Widger, Jr., was asked what took the jury so long to reach a verdict. “There were a lot of little things.”
Widger said the jury agreed they would not discuss details of the deliberations.
If Poindexter had given a statement about his trial, it is likely he would have complained about his defense attorneys. In letters from prison, Poindexter outlined some of the mistakes made by his lawyers. “There was ineffective assistance of counsel at the trial by failure to interview six potential witnesses with exculpatory information.
“George McCline said he had knowledge of who committed the crime and where the dynamite used was stored. Tyrone Stearns said he knew the source of the dynamite used in the crime.”
“Richard Gibson had information regarding who killed the policeman. Anthony Sanders had knowledge of two white men holding bomb making classes in the community.”
“Patrick Jones had information regarding who sold the dynamite to the individual who planted the bomb that killed the policeman. Finally, an “unnamed informant” tipped police that a black male was selling dynamite.”
“The attorneys failed to vigorously pursue Donald Peak’s testimony concerning the contents of Duane’s suitcase.”
“There was the failure to vigorously pursue a valuable lead in a Social Security card found at the crime scene belonging to Johnny Lee Bussby.”
“Counsel called Robert Cecil to the stand, asked a few questions and excused him without asking him how he got dynamite particles all over his hands.”
“There was failure to at least enter an objection into the record for allowing a sleeping juror to remain on the jury, but wearing a pair of sunglasses.”
“The jury foreman slept all throughout the trial, I complained to the lawyers, they took a short recess, then returned with the man wearing sunglasses for the rest of the trial as he continued sleeping.”
“Raleigh House was implicated by Duane Peak, but the state did not pursue it because they were after only Mondo and myself, the so-called ringleaders. Selective prosecution is the term for that. Robert Cecil was found to have had dynamite particles all over his hands, but the state never pursued him.”
“Also note that he was not even asked any questions related to the dynamite particles found on his hands during his testimony at the trial, not by the prosecution or defense.”
“The state also always knew Duane did not make that 911 call, but did not care who really made it because they were only after Mondo and myself.”
Mondo had more criticism of the trial. “Regarding the testimony of Duane Peak, from the time he was arrested to the time of the trial, Duane Peak gave a minimum of six different versions of the plan to “off a pig”. Of all these versions, only one, which he gave at the trial, implicated me as having anything to do with the death of Minard.”
“How can a witness tell even two different stories and one of them not be a lie? Duane Peak told a minimum of six. Duane Peak is a perjurer.”
“All of Duane Peak’s testimony linking me to the blowing up of Minard was negated by witnesses for the defense, two of them his own cousins.”
“I don’t believe he acted on his own. But I did not use him. I did not put his life in jeopardy.”
“The prosecution claimed a piece of copper wire was found at the “scene of the bombing,” that markings on this wire were compared in a lab to markings left on a piece of lead cut by pliers found in my house. The wire wasn’t actually found at the scene of the bombing but in the basement of the house next door, about three feet from a tool bench.”
“The only copper wire testified to as being used in the bombing was that from the blasting caps. That wire was a half to two-thirds smaller in diameter than the wire found at the house next door to the bombing.”
“There are all kinds of things about the case that are really pretty basic and pretty outrageous that are part of the record that people don’t know about.”
Mondo died in March 2016 at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. Poindexter remains imprisoned at the maximum security prison, a half-century later, where he continues to maintain his innocence. Poindexter, in poor health and at risk from the Covid virus, has a pending commutation of sentence request with the Nebraska Pardon Board but the Board refuses to set a hearing date.
The FBI Laboratory withheld a report on the identity of the anonymous 911 caller that lured Larry Minard to his bombing death in a vacant house in order to obtain a conviction of Poindexter and Mondo who were leaders of Omaha’s Black Panther Party affiliate chapter. Operation COINTELPRO was terminated by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover a week after the Omaha Two were convicted.
Justice remains undone.
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.