September 9, 2008 at 11:03:17
COINTELPRO memo reveals J. Edgar Hoover gave order to withhold evidence in 'Omaha Two' case
by Michael Richardson
J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for forty-eight years, was one of the most feared men in Washington, D.C. while he was alive because of his extensive files into the private lives of the rich and the famous and the powerful. Hoover was also feared because of his violent responses to those he considered threats.
In the late 1960's, Hoover declared a clandestine war on the Black Panthers and other "black nationalist" groups as part of Operation COINTELPRO. A secret directive dated August 25, 1967 both authorized and mandated illegal harassment and targeting of domestic groups and U.S. citizens deemed a racial or political threat by Hoover.
In Omaha, the war on the Panthers was directed at a chapter of the party called the Nebraska Committee to Combat Fascism headed by Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (then-David Rice). The attack on the two activists was personally directed by Hoover and his inner circle at the top of the FBI command structure.
Poindexter and Langa had been targets of COINTELPRO for their leadership roles in the Black Panther affiliate and were disliked by most local police for their sharp criticism of the shooting death of 14 year-old Vivian Strong by police in the summer of 1969. Both men further inflamed police hostility by their repeated use of the word "pig" to describe police officers.
On August 17, 1970 at 2:07 a.m. a powerful blast killed patrolman Larry Minard and injured seven others officers at a vacant house the police had been called to investigate. While uniform officers ran a dragnet arresting dozens of people in the hours and days following the bombing, the man in charge of the investigation, Asst. Chief Glen W. Gates, was meeting with the FBI to hatch a plot to convict Poindexter and Langa rather than find Minard's actual killers, betraying his fallen fellow officer.
Two days after the bombing, before Larry Minard's body was even buried, Hoover gave a command to drop the search for Minard's killers and instead make a case against the NCCF leaders, a plan agreed to by Gates. Hoover's verbal directive to rig the investigation was recorded by Ivan W. Conrad, the head of the FBI Laboratory, on a COINTELPRO memo issued the day of the bombing. Conrad called Hoover to discuss the recommendation of the Omaha Special-Agent-in-Charge that police be only provided an informal, oral report on the lab's vocal analysis of the deadly phone call rather than a full investigatory report.
The voice of a killer, whose identity was unknown, presented a problem to what was now a police conspiracy. The headline in the Omaha World-Herald blared out "Voiceprint in Bombing to FBI Lab". According to the newspaper an Omaha Police spokesman said the voiceprint would be a "good investigative tool" to identify the man who made the call luring police to the deadly ambush.
Conrad, who apparently understood the implications of not issuing a formal lab report, asked Hoover about the Omaha SAC recommendation that, "an exception should be made in this case in order to assist the Omaha Police in developing investigative leads." The exception Conrad asked Hoover about was, "The results of an examination will not be furnished directly to the Police but orally conveyed through the SAC of Omaha."
Conrad scrawled on his copy of the COINTELPRO memo, "Dir advised telephonically & said OK to do" followed by his initials. Hoover gave approval to withhold the FBI Laboratory analysis and the lab director was able to keep the results permanently hidden. However, Conrad did keep up his end of the plot and gave the results to the Omaha SAC who in turn shared them with Gates.
Ultimately, 15 year-old Duane Peak confessed to planting the bomb that took Minard's life. Peak also claimed he made the emergency call and that Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa helped him build the bomb. Peak was offered a deal and became the state's chief witness against the two Panther leaders in exchange for a short sentence and his freedom. To keep the case from unraveling it was necessary for Peak to have been the caller as he claimed. However, there was one catch, the voice on the tape did not sound like Duane Peak but rather that of an older man.
On October 13, 1970, the Omaha SAC sent a memo directly to Hoover: "Assistant COP GLENN GATES, Omaha PD, advised that he feels that any use of this call might be prejudicial to the police murder trial against two accomplices of PEAK and, therefore, has advised that he wishes no use of this tape until after the murder trials of PEAK and the two accomplices have been completed."
Mondo we Langa says, "This is pretty clear indication of cloak and dagger stuff. We want you to do the analysis but we don't want you to put the results in writing. Communicate to us this way. So I suspect that somewhere between that memo and the prior one, the decision was made that the tape would not be part of the trial. A vital issue, a critical issue."
The tape recording was successfully kept from the defense and the jury that convicted Poindexter and Langa never got to hear the voice that made the fatal call. The original recording was destroyed several years after the trial and then in 1980 a reel-to-reel copy of the tape was found, quietly made by a dispatcher. In 2006, the recording was submitted to modern vocal analysis. Expert Tom Owens determined the voice on the tape was not that of Duane Peak, a conclusion apparently also reached by Conrad's technicians at the FBI Laboratory back in 1970 when the tape was withheld.
Peak served several years of juvenile detention and then gained his freedom. The unknown caller whose voice was captured on tape was never identified or brought to justice. Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa are serving life sentences at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary. Both men deny any involvement in Minard's murder.
Poindexter has an appeal pending before the Nebraska Supreme Court. Oral argument is scheduled for October. No date for a decision has been announced.
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.