LINCOLN — The author of a recently released book on the booby-trap bomb murder of an Omaha police officer in 1970 says the real killer or killers have escaped justice.
Michael Richardson, who spent more than a decade digging through FBI and police records for his book, recently asked Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine and Gov. Pete Ricketts to reopen an investigation into the slaying of Police Officer Larry Minard.
Richardson, an Omaha native who covered part of the 1971 trial that convicted David Rice and Ed Poindexter of the murder, said he’s convinced by his review of the case and records not previously released that the pair was framed because they were black militants at a time when racial tensions were ripping apart the nation, as well as Omaha.
Richardson said: “They were guilty of rhetoric, they were guilty of being Black Panthers, they were guilty of hating the police. But they were not guilty of Larry Minard’s murder.”
Rice and Poindexter were convicted and sentenced to serve life in prison for what was one of the most sensational murders in Omaha history. Rice, who later adopted the African name Mondo we Langa, died in prison in 2016. Poindexter, now 74, remains behind bars at the Nebraska State Penitentiary.
Richardson, who delivered letters to Kleine and Ricketts in May, isn’t the first person to call for a review of the case. National figures like black activist Angela Davis and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, as well as Amnesty International, have said the two men amount to political prisoners who should go free.
But others, including the family of Officer Minard, have long maintained that the two were justly convicted.
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Richardson said his plea for reopening the case is critical now because justice could still be delivered to Poindexter, who required heart surgery two years ago.
“This case is in the past, but it is in the present for Ed Poindexter. He’s still locked up,” he said, “and you never get used to it.”
Kleine, when reached for comment, said that he is always willing to take a second look at a case when new evidence arises, but that the conviction of Rice and Poindexter has been upheld in the face of “intense scrutiny” over the years by the Nebraska Supreme Court, federal courts and other attorneys.
“There’s a lot of people who have looked at this (case),” Kleine said. “But I’m not aware of anything that leads me to believe these people are completely innocent.”
Members of Minard’s family have said that it’s “totally and completely ridiculous” to believe that the two men were framed. In 1994, then-Omaha Police Chief James Skinner testified against Poindexter being considered for parole, saying the evidence showed they participated in a conspiracy to kill police officers, and that warrants life in prison.
Ricketts, according to Richardson, sent a one-sentence letter acknowledging receipt of his recent book, but did not respond to the call to reopen an investigation. The Governor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
Richardson, who is now based in Belize, said that there were many things unsettling about the investigation and conviction of the “Omaha Two” that should have raised red flags, “but due to the politics of the day, it didn’t.”
Among the assertions made by Richardson in his book, “Framed: J. Edgar Hoover, COINTELPRO & the Omaha Two Story,” are:
- The phone call that lured Minard and other police to the bomb that was planted in a vacant north Omaha home could not have been made by Duane Peak, the prosecution’s star witness, who testified at the trial that he made the call.
- In 2007, a voice-recognition expert testified that it was “highly probable” that the low-pitched voice on a recording of the call was not Peak, who was 15 at the time and had a high-pitched voice. But the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected a new trial for Poindexter in 2009, ruling that he had failed to prove that playing the tape at the trial would have changed its outcome.
- The FBI canceled a lab report on the phone call, a highly unusual move in such a case, according to the author. At the time, the FBI was conducting a covert, counterintelligence effort called COINTELPRO to discredit and disrupt Rice and Poindexter, as well as leaders of other Black Panther affiliates. The book suggests that not testing the tape helped manipulate the result of the trial.
- Dynamite residue found in Rice’s pockets was planted. It was implausible, one expert testified, that it would be found in anyone’s pockets. And Richardson said that Rice’s hands tested clean for dynamite just after The World-Herald published a photo of him turning himself in with his hands in his pockets. That, the author said, points to the planting of dynamite particles.
- Rice had an alibi witness who refuted Peak’s story about when Peak had picked up the suitcase from Rice. But Richardson said that the defense attorneys didn’t pick up on the conflicting testimony.
Peak, who initially said that Rice and Poindexter had no connection to the bombing but later testified that they directed him to plant the bomb, was granted immunity and moved to the Pacific Northwest in exchange for his testimony. Richardson said it was suspicious that the person identified as supplying the dynamite and suitcase for the bomb that killed Minard was not prosecuted, along with Peak and one other person linked to the dynamite.
Lincoln attorney Bob Bartle, who represented Poindexter in his most recent appeals a decade ago, said he remains suspicious of the “dirty tricks” played by federal authorities during the investigation and trial, but says the case lacks the irrefutable evidence, such as DNA evidence, that not only exonerates Rice and Poindexter but fingers who actually killed Minard.
“The traditional avenues of appeal for Ed Poindexter are closed, absent an extraordinary measure taken by a prosecutor or the (State) Board of Pardons,” Bartle said. “I would welcome (a reopening of the case), but would be pleasantly surprised if it came.”
Richardson said that his “guilty knowledge” of the case prompted him to dig deeper and write the book, which he maintains is the first time all threads of the case have been presented in one package.
“It’s too late to test for dynamite, but it’s not too late to see who (really) made that call,” he said.