[Ppnews] Conflicting dynamite testimony by police detailed to Nebraska Supreme Court raises doubt in 1971 Black Panther case
Political Prisoner News
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jan 31 11:02:27 EST 2008
Original Content at
January 30, 2008
Conflicting dynamite testimony by police detailed
to Nebraska Supreme Court raises doubt in 1971 Black Panther case
By Michael Richardson
Black Panther leaders Ed Poindexter and Mondo we
Langa, formerly David Rice, are serving life
sentences for the 1970 bombing murder of Omaha
police officer Larry Minard. Targets of the
secret COINTELPRO operation of the Federal Bureau
of Investigation against the Black Panthers,
Poindexter and Langa were already under close
surveillance when they were arrested along with a
dozen others during the murder investigation.
Eventually charges would be dropped against all
but 15 year-old Duane Peak, the confessed bomber,
and the two Panther leaders who ran the Omaha
chapter then called the National Committee to
Combat Fascism. Peak struck a deal with
prosecutors and implicated Poindexter and Langa
in exchange for sentencing as a juvenile which
allowed him to walk free in 1974.
Two Omaha detectives, Jack Swanson and Robert
Pheffer, came up with the dynamite, purportedly
found in Langa's basement, that corroborated
Peak's story. However, police crime scene
photographs of the basement do not picture
dynamite. The explosives do not appear in
evidence photos until they show up in the trunk of a police squad car.
In a bid for a new trial, filed in 2004,
Poindexter is now before the state high court
where the justices must rule on a variety of
matters including the discovery of the
dynamite. Poindexter's appeal brief details the
different versions given by the two officers.
"At Poindexter's trial, Sgt. Swanson testified
that he found dynamite in Rice's basement at 2816
Parker, and that Sgt. Pheffer was also in the
basement when Swanson found it. Contrary to
Swanson's trial testimony, Pheffer testified that
he (Pheffer) never went down into Rice's
basement, and that he (Pheffer) first saw the
dynamite found by Swanson when Swanson carried it up from Rice's basement."
"At Poindexter's post-conviction hearing on May
30, 2007, Pheffer'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, Pheffer testified he
was the one who found the dynamite in Rice's
.Pheffer claimed that Swanson was right
behind him and that when Pheffer saw the
dynamite, he became scared and told Swanson that
they needed to 'get the heck out of here'".
"When confronted with the discrepancy between
Pheffer's sworn trial testimony in 1971 and his
recent testimony of actually being the officer
who found the dynamite, Pheffer swore that this
trial testimony in 1971 was not correct, that
'the court reporter, somebody got it wrong.'".
"At trial, Officer Swanson testified that he
found dynamite in Rice's basement, and that
Officer Pheffer was also in the basement when he
found it. Contrary to Swanson's testimony,
Pheffer testified that he never went down to the
basement. Whether perjury or simply inconsistent
statements, Pheffer'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 Pheffer now to
disavow his trial testimony calls into question
the credibility of the trial testimony of both Officers Swanson and Pheffer."
District Judge Russell Bowie, who heard Pheffer's
contradictory testimony, shrugged off the
opposing sworn statements in his Sept. 10, 2007
ruling against a new trial. "Other than the
conflicting reports about who found the dynamite
in Rice's basement, there is no evidence to
suggest that the dynamite was planted by
police. The bottom line is that dynamite was
found in Rice's basement, who found it is immaterial."
Another reason the credibility of Pheffer is now
in question strongly suggests perjury rather than
inconsistency. Pheffer has twice claimed to have
found evidence of bomb-making supplies that were
never seen by anyone else, not identified in any
police report, and are missing from Pheffer's own investigative reports.
"Pheffer's post-conviction testimony is also
notable related to what he claimed to have found
in a closet in Rice's first floor
bedroom. Pheffer claimed that during the search
he went into Rice's bedroom, and in a closet, he
found three attaché suitcases, Samsonite, kind of
grayish, kind of bluish, gray color that had
wires sticking out of all three of them. Pheffer
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." Pheffer 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."
"Asked about the reports that he completed
regarding the search at 2816 Parker, Pheffer
acknowledged that Exhibit 142 and 106 were
reports of the search; but that these reports
stated nothing about any attache cases being found."
"Interestingly, Pheffer also claimed to have
found an attaché case during the search of NCCF
headquarters on August 22, 1970. More
specifically, Pheffer testified at Poindexter's
suppression hearing that he (Pheffer) found "an
attaché case in the front room with wires and a
clothespin attached to it." Pheffer also
acknowledged that the property and incident
reports surrounding the search at NCCF
headquarters contained no mention whatsoever of
finding the attaché case with wires and a clothespin attached."
The next step in the litigation is for the
prosecution to submit a response to Poindexter's
appeal. No date has been scheduled for a decision.
Poindexter's attorney, Robert Bartle of Lincoln,
Nebraska, sums the case up with a simple statement, "It is about injustice."
Permission granted to reprint
Authors Bio: 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.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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