by Michael Richardson
February 24, 2008
Omaha Police detective's "evidence" in Black Panther murder case
disappeared without a trace raising perjury question
The tragic bombing murder of Omaha Police patrolman Larry Minard on
August 17, 1970 triggered a series of events, monitored by J. Edgar
Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that led to
the ultimate release of Minard's confessed killer, Duane Peak, after
several years of juvenile detention.
Peak's brokered testimony, which bought his freedom, implicated two
leaders of Omaha's Black Panther chapter, the National Committee to
Combat Fascism. Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, formerly David
Rice, had been under surveillance by Hoover's secret, and illegal,
COINTELPRO operation designed to "disrupt" the Black Panthers, were
named by Peak as his co-conspirators. Both Poindexter and Langa were
convicted of murder and are incarcerated at the maximum security
Nebraska State Penitentiary serving life sentences. Both men deny
any involvement in the crime.
Although Peak was the prosecution's murderous star witness, the
testimony of Omaha detective Robert Pheffer was also critical to the
case as he corroborated the account of detective Jack Swanson's claim
to have found dynamite in Langa's basement at the trial. Pheffer has
since contradicted his own trial testimony and now claims, under
oath, that he found the dynamite raising a question of perjury,
either at the trial or at a May 2007 hearing before Douglas County
District Court Judge Russell Bowie who was considering a new trial
request by Poindexter.
When confronted by Poindexter's attorney, Robert Barle, over the
discrepancy between his 1971 testimony at trial and his 2007 sworn
testimony before Bowie, Pheffer became noticeably flustered and
denied his own trial testimony claiming "the court reporter, somebody
got it wrong."
Dynamite never appeared in any evidence photos of Langa's house and
only first shows up in the trunk of a police squad car in any photograph.
Pheffer's new claim to have found the dynamite brings into question
other "evidence" discovered by the Omaha detective in the course of
the investigation. Pheffer has testified to the discovery of other
bomb-making supplies at two locations--claims not supported by the
trial record or any police reports. Thus, the question of Pheffer's
credibility hinges on whether or not police destroyed or hid evidence
of bomb-making equipment, allegedly found by Pheffer, at two
different search locations.
At Langa's house, where Pheffer now claims he found dynamite in the
basement, Pheffer testified to Judge Bowie that he also found in a
bedroom closet three gray Samsonite attaché cases with wires sticking
out of them. Pheffer claims after finding the three attaché cases a
rope was passed through the handles and "lead it out the bedroom
through the front room, outside the steps" where the cases were
opened when they did not detonate. Pheffer's dramatic discovery of
the wired attaché cases was not mentioned at trial nor were the
purported bomb parts introduced as evidence. Pheffer didn't even
bother to enter the attache cases into the inventory list of the
search. Nor did any other officer. In fact, Pheffer is the sole
witness to the "evidence" he now claims to have found that somehow
disappeared without a trace.
At NCCF headquarters, in a search the same day, Pheffer found more
"evidence" with another attaché case with wires. Pheffer did testify
about that purported discovery in 1971. Pheffer testified he found,
"an attache case in the front room with wires and a clothespin
attached to it." Yet once again, Pheffer failed to log in the
attaché case or even record it on the search inventory list. No
other officers filed reports or testified about the case and it was
not produced at trial as evidence despite Pheffer's claims.
From the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln writes Ed
Poindexter, "Robert Pheffer said at our trial that when he and
company raided NCCF on 24th Street that he saw several unarmed
suitcase bombs in various stages of development….Pheffer was lying
right in front of the jury."
"Needless to say, said bomb finding did not exist on the record; that
is, they were not on the inventory list of items confiscated from HQ,
and no one else appeared to have seen them, and of course they did
not exist in evidence. Yet he went totally unchallenged in the
courtroom when he blurted this out."
"I've been harping on this for umpteen years, but for some reason, no
one likes to talk about it."
In a recent prison interview Langa commented on Pheffer's conflicting
testimony, "We come up to the present and here is Pheffer talking
about we found a box of dynamite in David Rice's house facing next to
"I'm thinking about this. Well, if a person was going to keep his
dynamite next to the furnace and I imagine it is to keep it warm,
then it would also make sense that if there were blasting caps in the
house then it would probably have been a good thing to have these
kept like on top of the stove to be consistent with this kind of
absurdity. But it was a make."
FBI agents assigned to COINTELPRO worked closely with Omaha Police
investigating the Black Panthers. One of the techniques common to
COINTELPRO operations was creating false documents and making false
statements to "disrupt" the Panthers.
Judge Bowie ruled Pheffer's contradictory dynamite testimony did not
matter and did not address the four attaché cases with wires that
have vanished which Pheffer claims to have found at two locations
when he denied Poindexter's bid for a new trial in September.
Now the Nebraska Supreme Court must grapple with Pheffer's
contradictory testimony and his missing "evidence" which has left
gaping holes in the case against the two imprisoned Black
Panthers. A date for the decision in Poindexter's appeal has not been set.
Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson
writes about politics, election law, human nutrition, ethics, and
music. Richardson is also a political consultant on ballot access.