Omaha Two story: April 2, 1971
The second day of testimony in the capital murder trial of Edward Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, then David Rice, continued police testimony about the tragic events of August 17, 1970, when Patrolman Larry S. Minard, Sr. was killed with an ambush bomb.
The two men were leaders of Omaha, Nebraska’s Black Panther affiliate chapter, National Committee to Combat Fascism, and were charged along with confessed bomber, 15 year-old Duane Peak, for the crime.
Friday’s testimony followed the same direction as the first day of trial as patrolmen Thornton, Rust, and Dennis corroborated the previous day’s testimony. Thornton’s testimony provided the most emotional statements of the day as he described the mutilated body of Minard.
Douglas County Attorney Donald Knowles presented 13 witnesses in the first two days of trial.
The Omaha Police intelligence unit, headed by Detective Jack Swanson, provided the most crucial testimony of the day when three members of the squad, including Swanson, testified about a police raid at the home of Mondo we Langa on August 22nd in a search for Duane Peak.
Mondo was out of town in Kansas City, Missouri, speaking at a rally for Black Panther Pete O’Neal who was facing a federal charge brought by the Division of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms for an out-of-state purchase of a shotgun.
In a dramatic moment, courtroom microphones were switched off as blasting caps entered the courtroom. Patrolman Dennis Taylor was a member of Swanson’s intelligence unit and identified the blasting caps he said the squad found at Mondo’s home.
Jack Swanson testified he found 14 sticks of dynamite in a “cubbyhole” in the basement of the residence. A picture of dynamite, in the trunk of a police cruiser, was introduced as evidence over the objection of defense attorney David Herzog.
Swanson’s hour-long testimony was riddled with 32 defense objections, many of them sustained by District Judge Donald Hamilton.
Assistant Sam Cooper questioned Swanson about his unit’s investigation of “militant groups” in Omaha. Swanson said his unit kept watch on motorcycle gangs, organized gangs, and “any group which might be involved in a conspiracy.”
Swanson testified his unit used informants, studied pertinent literature, and conducted direct surveillance. Swanson said he personally conducted surveillance six times of the headquarters of the National Committee to Combat Fascism in Omaha.
Swanson said that an August 22nd raid on N.C.C.F. headquarters yielded “stacks of Black Panther Party literature.” Swanson said that most of the same officers that raided the headquarters at about 5:00 p.m. also raided Mondo we Langa’s house around 10 p.m.
Swanson did not testify to the jury about the stolen dynamite seized by Omaha Police on July 28th or the three men arrested, Luther Payne, Lamont Mitchell, or Conrad Gray.
Swanson’s testimony he found dynamite in Mondo’s basement was corroborated by Sergeant Robert Pfeffer who said he saw Swanson carry dynamite upstairs from the basement. The Nebraska Supreme Court would later describe the police testimony:
“At trial, Swanson testified that he found dynamite in Rice’s basement and that Pfeffer was also in the basement when the dynamite was found. Pfeffer, on the other hand, testified at trial that he never went to the basement and that he did not see the dynamite until Swanson carried it up from the basement. Trial counsel did not spend time exploring who was really in the basement.”
Pfeffer would later change his testimony and in a post-trial proceeding told Douglas County District Judge Russell Bowie that Swanson did not find any dynamite contradicting his own trial testimony.
Robert Bartle, Ed Poindexter’s attorney, described the various police stories in an appeal brief:
“At Poindexter’s post-conviction hearing on May 30, 2007, Pfeffer’s testimony about finding the dynamite in Rice’s basement was significantly different from his sworn trial testimony 36 years earlier. On May 30, 2007, Pfeffer testified he was the one who found the dynamite in Rice’s basement….Pfeffer claimed that Swanson was right behind him and that when Pfeffer saw the dynamite, he become scared and told Swanson that they needed to “get the heck out of here.”
“When confronted with the discrepancy between Pfeffer’s sworn trial testimony in 1971 and his recent testimony of actually being the officer who found the dynamite, Pfeffer swore that his trial testimony in 1971 was not correct, that the court reporter, somebody got it wrong.”
Bartle continued, “Whether perjury or simply inconsistent statements, Pfeffer’s testimony about being in the basement when the dynamite was found was an extremely significant discrepancy.”
“When confronted with this contradiction on May 30th, he vehemently denied that he had testified thus at trial. For Officer Pfeffer now to disavow his trial testimony calls into question the credibility of the trial testimony of both Officers Swanson and Pfeffer.”
Jack Swanson is now deceased and unable to explain discrepancies over his role in the August 22, 1970 search of Mondo we Langa’s house. Pfeffer, who had given widely divergent accounts of his own actions during the search, further undermined his credibility in testimony to Judge Bowie.
Pfeffer has twice claimed to have found evidence of bomb-maiking supplies that were never seen by anyone else, not identified in any police report, and are missing from Pfeffer’s own investigative reports.
Robert Bartle on Pfeffer’s credibility: “Pfeffer’s post-conviction testimony is also notable related to what he claimed to have found in a closet in Rice’s first floor bedroom. Pfeffer claimed that during the search he went into Rice’s bedroom, and in a closet, he found three attaché suitcases, Samonsonite, kind of grayish, kind of bluish, gray color that had wires sticking out of all three of them. Pfeffer claimed that after finding these attaché cases, either the ATF or one of the cruisers got a rope and “gingerly wrapped” the rope through the three handles of the suitcase and “lead it out the bedroom through the front room, outside the steps, hid behind a cruiser and pulled it; Pfeffer then claimed that because the suitcases didn’t “go off”, they opened the cases and found they were wired inside, probably he assumes, to make three more suitcase bombs.”
The brief continues, “Asked about the reports that he completed regarding the search at 2816 Parker, Pfeffer acknowledged that Exhibit 142 and 106 were reports of the search; but that these reports stated nothing about any attaché cases being found.”
Bartle wrote: “Interestingly, Pfeffer also claimed to have found an attaché case during the search of NCCF headquarters on August 22, 1970. More specifically, Pfeffer testified at Poindexter’s suppression hearing that he (Pfeffer) found “an attaché case in the front room with wires and a clothespin attached to it.” Pfeffer also acknowledged that the property and incident reports contained no mention whatsoever of finding the attaché case with wires and a clothespin attached.”
The jury that would convict the Omaha Two never got to hear all the different versions ultimately told by Swanson and Pfeffer about dynamite and suitcases–including versions in conflict with the officers’ own written reports.
During the second week of trial, the prosecution would call to the stand its star witness, Larry Minard’s confessed killer, Duane Peak.
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