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Internal report of Amnesty International says Omaha Two prisoners of conscience

Prisoners of conscience Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa
Prisoners of conscience Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa
Michael Richardson

The human rights group Amnesty International has long been aware of the case of the Omaha Two, Edward Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice). The pair were leaders of an affiliate chapter of the Black Panther Party in Omaha, Nebraska called the National Committee to Combat Fascism when they were convicted for the August 17, 1970 murder of a policeman.

Although hidden details of the manipulated prosecution of the trial now known were not available to Amnesty International back in 1977 when it took on an investigation of the case, a three-year inquiry by a German team of researchers concluded the two Omaha men were political prisoners.

The investigation team that had the assignment was known as “Group 489” and was based in Bremen, West Germany. Group 489 issued an eighteen-page summary report on the case on April 7, 1980 that was sharply critical of both local and federal law enforcement officials. The prosecutors were also found to be at fault by the Amnesty International team.

The investigative team said: “After careful examination of all material obtained we have become convinced that David Rice and Ed Poindexter are prisoners of conscience. They were sentenced for a crime they didn’t commit and did not use or advocate violence. Blaming the murder of a policeman on them was a convenient opportunity to silence these vociferous black critics and disrupt their organization.”

The clandestine counterintelligence program of the Federal Bureau codenamed COINTELPRO was blamed. “This program consisted of a great variety of activities from the use of paid informants within the groups or the dissemination of private or fictitious information to mass media, credit bureaus, employers, etc. to enforcing police harassment of group members. The local police naturally assisted and cooperated with the FBI. A prime example of how the legal system was misused in order to fulfill the goals of this cointel-program can be seen in the case of Rice/Poindexter.”

The report notes that at trial “policemen gave contradictory statements as to where they found the dynamite” allegedly located in Mondo we Langa’s basement. Duane Peak, a 15 year-old Black Panther want-to-be, admitted placing the bomb but told multiple versions of the story only implicating the two Panthers in the final version, the one police wanted to hear. The report accuses prosecutor Arthur O’Leary of “subordination of perjury” for telling Peak “it doesn’t make any difference what the truth is.”

Arthur O’Leary also focused the prosecution on the ideology of the two defendants. “In the cross examination the prosecutor was mainly concerned to show the political activities of Rice and Poindexter and their leadership role in the NCCF and in disseminating newsletter critical of police practices.”

The report contrasts two conflicting statements by detectives Jack Swanson and Robert Pfeffer over the purported location of dynamite in Mondo’s basement. “Sgt. Swanson testified that the box of dynamite was not covered but was in plain view, once had looked into the coal bin, while Sgt. Pfeffer stated the box was hidden under a door.”

The Amnesty International investigators were critical of trial testimony by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division laboratory expert Roland Wilder for claiming a tiny piece of wire found across the street from the bomb site matched a pair of pliers found at Mondo’s house despite finding twenty-five dissimilarities. “This shows what kind of tactics the prosecution was willing to use in order to pursue its questionable goals,” said the report.

Mincing no words the Amnesty International investigators said, “David Rice and Ed Poindexter became the victims of a frame up and a racially biased use of the law.” The report concluded: “The murder of patrolman Minard appeared to be a welcome pretext to incriminate the two activists and strike a blow against the NCCF from which it couldn’t recover. The legal system was misused and they were unjustly convicted.” Both men remain imprisoned at the Nebraska State Penitentiary where they continue to deny any involvement in the crime

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