[Pnews] Crime and punishment questions still surround 1970 killing that sent Omaha Two to life in prison

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 25 14:22:35 EDT 2016


  The Reader | Omaha, Nebraska

  Crime and punishment questions still surround 1970 killing that sent
  Omaha Two to life in prison

by Leo Adam Biga

/Monday, April 25th, 2016/

When Mondo we Langa died at age 68 in the Nebraska State Penitentiary 
last month, he’d served 45 years for a crime he always maintained he did 
not commit. The former David Rice, a poet and artist, was found guilty, 
along with fellow Black Panther Ed Poindexter, in the 1970 suitcase bomb 
murder of Omaha police officer Larry Minard. With his reputed accomplice 
now gone, Poindexter remains in prison, still asserting his own innocence.

Poindexter and we Langa have been portrayed by sympathetic attorneys, 
social justice watchdogs and journalists as wrongfully convicted victims 
framed by overzealous officials. The argument goes the two were found 
guilty by a nearly all-white jury and a stacked criminal justice system 
for their militant black nationalist affiliations and inflammatory words 
rather than hard evidence against them. Supporters call them the Omaha 
Two in reference to a supposed population of American political 
prisoners incarcerated for their beliefs.

The crucial witness against the pair, Duane Peak, is the linchpin in the 
case. His testimony implicated them despite his contradictory 
statements. we Landa and Poindexter dispute his assertions. Today, Peak 
lives under an assumed name in a different state.

Two writers with Omaha ties who’ve trained a sharp eye on the case are 
Elena Carter and Michael Richardson. Carter, an Iowa University creative 
writing graduate student, spent months researching and writing her 
in-depth February article for BuzzFeed. She laid out the convoluted 
evidentiary trail that went cold decades ago, though subsequent 
discoveries cast doubt on the official record of events. Just not enough 
to compel a judge to order a new trial.

Richardson has written extensively on the case since 2007 for various 
online sites, including Examiner.com. He lives in Belize, Central America.

Both writers have immersed themselves in trial transcripts and related 
materials. They visited we Langa and Poindexter in prison. Their 
research has taken them to various witnesses, experts and advocates.

For Carter, it’s a legacy project. Her father, Earl Sandy Carter, was 
with the VISTA federal anti-poverty program (now part of AmeriCorps) 
here in the early 1970s. Richardson, a fellow VISTA worker in Omaha,  
says he “came of age politically and socially,” much as Carter did, 
during all the fervor of civil rights and anti-war counterculture. 
Ironically, they did things like free food programs in the black 
community closely resembling what the Panthers did; only as whites they 
largely escaped the harassment and suspicion of their grassroots black 

Earl Sandy Carter edited a newsletter, Down on the Ground, to which we 
Langa and Poindexter contributed. Richardson knew we Langa from Omaha 
City Council meetings they attended. With their shared liberal leanings, 
Richardson and Carter teamed to cover the trial as citizen journalists, 
co-writing a piece published in the Omaha Star.

Elena Carter grew up unaware of the case. Then her father mentioned it 
as possible subject matter for her to explore. Intrigued to retrace his 
activism amid tragic events he reported on, she took the bait.

“The more I read about it the more I wanted to look into this very 
complicated, fascinating case,” she says. “Everything I read kept 
reinforcing they were innocent – that this was a clear wrongful 
conviction. Until now, my writing has been personal – poetry and memoir. 
This was my first journalistic piece. This was different for me in terms 
of the responsibility I felt to get everything right and do the story 

That sense of responsibility increased upon meeting we Langa and 
Poindexter on separate prison visits. They were no longer abstractions, 
symbols or martyrs but real people grown old behind bars.

“It was a lot more pressure than I usually feel while writing, but also 
a really great privilege for them to trust me to write about them,” she 

She visited we Langa three times, the last two in the prison infirmary, 
where he was treated for advanced respiratory disease. Though confined 
to a wheelchair and laboring to breathe, she found him “eccentric, super 
smart, optimistic, exuberant and still in high spirits – singing, 
reciting poems,” adding, “He wasn’t in denial he was dying, yet he 
seemed really determined to live.”

She says, “He was on my mind for a year and a half – it did become 
highly personal.” She found both men “even-keeled but certainly angry at 
the situation they found themselves in.” She adds, “Mondo said he didn’t 
have any anger toward Duane Peak. He saw him as a really vulnerable kid 
scared for his family. But he did express anger toward the system.”

Richardson, who applied for Conscientious Objector status during the 
Vietnam War, never forgot the case. Ten years ago he began reexamining 
it. Hundreds of articles have followed.

“The more I learned, the more I doubted the official version of the 
case,” he says. “I reached the conclusion the men were innocent after 
about a year of my research. It was the testimony of forensic 
audiologist Tom Owen that Duane Peak did not make the 911 call (that 
drew Officer Minard to a vacant house where the bomb detonated) that 
made me understand there had been false testimony at the trial. My 
belief in their innocence has only grown over the years as I learned 
more about the case.

“Also, my visits and correspondence with both men helped shape my 
beliefs. Mondo was unflinching with his candor and I came to have a 
profound respect for his personal integrity. Their stories have never 
changed. Their denials seem very genuine to me. The deceit of the police 
agencies has slowly been revealed with disclosures over the years, 
although much remains hidden or destroyed.”

There are as many conspiracy theories about the case as folks making it 
a cause. Everyone has a scapegoat and boogeyman. Richardson and Carter 
don’t agree on everything but they do agree the men did not receive a 
fair trial due to mishandled, concealed, even planted evidence. They 
point to inconsistent testimony from key witnesses. They see patterns of 
systemic, targeted prejudice against the Panthers that created an 
environment for police and prosecutorial misconduct.

The murder of a white cop who was a husband and father and the 
conviction of two black men who used militant language resonates with 
recent incidents that sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.

Considerable legal and social justice resources have been brought to 
bear on the case in an effort to have it reopened and retried.

As Elena Carter wrote, “we Langa and Poindexter’s case has penetrated 
every level of the criminal justice system, from local officials to 
former governors to the FBI to the Supreme Court.” Yet, we Langa 
languished in prison and died there.

Carter reported we Langa’s best chance for a new trial came in 1974, 
“when he filed an appeal in federal district court, arguing the dynamite 
and blasting caps recovered from his home during a police search for 
Duane Peak should never have been received in evidence” because the 
officers who entered his home “had no probable cause Duane was there.” 
Contravening and contradictory court rulings affecting that decision 
have apparently had a chilling effect on any judge taking the case on.

She and Richardson surmise no judicial official in this conservative 
state wants to overturn or commute a convicted cop killer’s sentence.

“Sadly, when you talk to people about a dead policeman and Black 
Panthers, the conversation sort of stops,” Richardson says.

“I don’t think enough people know about this case,” says Carter. “Why 
this case hasn’t been taken as seriously as it should perplexes and 
frustrates me.”

She and Richardson believe the fact the Omaha Panthers were not 
prominent in the party nationally has kept their case low profile. The 
Washington Post did report on it decades ago and Carter says, “I feel 
like that’s the only time a serious national publication had put it out 
there they could be innocent.” Until her story.

A documentary examined the case. Noted attorney Lennox Hinds has been 
involved in the defense effort.

Locally, Ben Gray made the case a frequent topic on KETV’s Kaleidoscope. 
Other local champions have included State Sen. Ernie Chambers. Then-Gov. 
Bob Kerrey was prepared to pardon we Langa, but the prisoner refused on 
the grounds it would be an admission of guilt. Nebraskans for Peace and 
others keep the case before officials.

“I would say the Omaha Two case shows the critical need for the news 
media to monitor the police and courts,” says Richardson.

No major exoneration projects or attorneys have adopted the case,

“I’m not entirely sure why that is after all these years,” Carter says. 
“I don’t know what their reluctance would be looking into this case more.”

Most observers speculate nothing will change unless or until someone 
comes forward with dramatic new evidence.

Carter hopes “something more could be done for Ed (Poindexter) at this 
point.” Barring action by the Nebraska Board of Pardons or Gov. Pete 
Ricketts, the 71-year-old inmate likely faces the same fate as his late 
friend given the history of denied appeals attending the case.

“Mondo told me he was paying a debt he did not owe,” Richardson says. 
“Poindexter deserves a fresh look at his case. I believe in their 
innocence. They were guilty of rhetoric, not murder.”

View Carter’s story at http://www.buzzfeed.com/e6carter/the-omaha-two# 
and Richardson’s stories at http://www.examiner.com/topic/omaha-two-1. ,

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

/posted at 09:29 am
on Monday, April 25th, 2016/

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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