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Confessed Omaha bomber changed story during preliminary hearing

Former Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers was in the courtroom when Duane Peak testified and gives eyewitness account
Former Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers was in the courtroom when Duane Peak testified and gives eyewitness account
Michael Richardson

Omaha Two story: Sept. 28, 1970

Duane Peak, the 15 year-old confessed bomber in the ambush killing of Omaha police officer Larry Minard, Sr. was transported from the Fremont, Nebraska jail where he had been held since August 31, 1970.

Peak had been moved to Fremont and given special privileges during the weeks of his interrogation following his arrest for the August 17th bombing. The young man was hard to pin down giving multiple versions of his admission.

The stories Peak told ranged from solo guilt to various accomplices, including after prodding, the alleged commands of Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, then David Rice. The official version of the case became that Peak acted at the direction of the two Black Panther leaders.

The day after Peak was moved to Fremont, on September 1, 1970, the three men arrested with stolen dynamite on July 28, 1970, Luther Payne, Lamont Mitchell, and Conrad Gray, had their preliminary hearing. Omaha detective Jack Swanson, head of the OPD Intelligence Unit, testified about the facts of the men’s arrests.

At the Federal Building, U.S. Attorney Richard Dier announced the resignation of his assistant J. William Gallup over a cancelled Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms Division raid. Gallup was working with the ATF agents on a tip from an adolescent and wanted to search the headquarters of the National Committee to Combat Fascism in July. The Federal Bureau of Investigation learned of the raid and had it cancelled, presumably in a turf war between the two agencies.

Gallup was angered by the meddling of the FBI in his raid and after the bombing decided to resign his federal position. Gallup told the Omaha World-Herald, “I got sick of Washington trying to run our legal business in Omaha.”

On September 28, 1970, a preliminary hearing, required by law to determine if there was sufficient grounds to continue to hold the two black leaders on murder charges, was held at the Douglas County Courthouse.

Suddenly, Larry Minard’s confessed killer was star witness. Peak would ultimately get a deal and walk free after 33 months in juvenile detention for his testimony.

The story of the preliminary hearing is told by Lincoln attorney Robert Bartle, now president of the Nebraska Bar Association. Bartle’s version of events is contained in an appeal brief for Ed Poindexter whom Bartle represents and summarizes Peak’s conflicting testimony.

The brief states: “When Duane Peak testified in the morning at the Preliminary Hearing on September 28, 1970, he did not implicate David Rice or Ed Poindexter. In fact, he denied having seen Poindexter the day the bomb was supposedly constructed.”

“This dramatic turn-around in his testimony speaks loudly of the pressure applied to Peak during the recess between his morning and his afternoon testimony. In the afternoon, he told a very different story. Duane acknowledge that he was “shaking and nervous” in the afternoon and that he hadn’t been “shaking and nervous” in the morning,” stated the brief.

What happened next is revealing. Mondo’s attorney, David Herzog, questioned Peak about his demeanor on the stand and had him remove sunglasses he was wearing on his return trip to the courtroom. A gasp went through the crowd in the courtroom as Peak removed his glasses to reveal red, puffy eyes--he had obviously been crying.

The court record speaks:

: “What happened to make you shake and bring your nervous condition about now?”

Peak: “I don’t know.”

: “You had a conversation between the time you were placed on the witness stand this morning and the present time now, isn’t that correct?”

Peak: “Yes.”

: “And there were the same things that the police officers told you about that would happen to you, like sitting in the electric chair, isn’t that correct?”

Peak: “I didn’t have a chance.”

Herzog: “You didn’t have a chance, did you?”

Peak: “No.”

Herzog: You are doing what they want you to do, aren’t you?

: “Yes.”

Former State Senator Ernie Chambers was in the courtroom when Peak testified. Chambers describes the scene: “When he came back in the afternoon, his face was swollen around his eyes, he had glass on…When Duane took his glasses off his eyes were red, you could see he had been crying, and there was an audible gasp in the courtroom.”

Chambers continues: “His answers were scarcely audible. A young man who knew nothing about anything in the morning and suddenly gave the answers that the police, the prosecutors needed to implicate David and Ed.”

The appeal brief: “All indications are that the prosecutors made a deal with Duane Peak, that in consideration for his testimony against Rice and Poindexter, they would treat him with leniency, and as a juvenile….The prosecutors never disclosed to the defense that such an arrangement had been made.”

Bartle concludes, “Notwithstanding the clear law requiring the disclosure, the prosecutors in this case were silent about the deal that was made with Duane Peak.”

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