“I observed that the side of his head was completely or nearly destroyed.”—Dennis Moran, April 2, 1971
The murder trial of Ed Poindexter and Mondo opened at the Douglas County Courthouse where half a century earlier Will Brown was lynched after a mob stormed the building. The fifth-floor main courtroom was under tight security as visitors were searched before entering.
In his opening statement to the jury of nine women and three men, prosecutor Arthur O’Leary charged that Poindexter, Mondo, and Duane Peak were part of a conspiracy that planted a bomb. “The evidence will show that during the summer of 1970 there were confrontations between black militants and the Omaha Police Department.”[i]
O’Leary explained the black militants were members of the Black Panther Party or affiliate National Committee to Combat Fascism. “The evidence will show writings by the Defendant Poindexter and the Defendant Rice as to the political tenets and the aims of that particular party.”[ii]
O’Leary stressed the case would depend largely on the testimony of Peak. O’Leary said that Peak’s testimony would be verified through the statements of other prosecution witnesses along with scientific evidence. The prosecution team of O’Leary, County Attorney Donald Knowles, and Deputy County Attorney Sam Cooper sought the death penalty.
As O’Leary summarized Peak’s story for the jury he told how Raleigh House supplied the suitcase for the bomb, adding that Poindexter was present when House picked up the suitcase. “As a matter of fact, Duane Peak…was driven by a Rollie House with Mr. Poindexter to another residence.”[iii]
However, Peak’s testimony contradicted O’Leary as Peak claimed Poindexter was dropped off at Mondo’s home before he and Raleigh House went together for the suitcase. Defense lawyers never required O’Leary to explain the discrepancy.
Assistant Public Defender Thomas Kenney informed the jury about a critical piece of evidence he had failed to obtain and that the jury never heard during the trial, the recorded voice of the anonymous caller that lured police into a deadly trap. “In addition to the testimony of all these witnesses, the police have a Voicegram; in other words, every call that is placed to the emergency number at the police station is recorded.”[iv]
Kenney questioned the credibility of any testimony that came from Duane Peak. He said that Peak had incriminated Mondo and Poindexter in order to save himself. Kenney then recounted a brief history of Peak’s teen years. “First of all, he is a young man who lived on the streets. He didn’t live with his father, even though he was only fifteen at the time.”[v]
“You will learn how Duane was kicked out of North High School, expelled because he got in a fight with a white boy. You will learn how Duane, last summer, was himself assaulted and beaten up by a white policeman. Ultimately the picture must emerge that here was a young man who had no love for whites in general and hate for the Omaha Police Department in particular.”[vi]
Kenney said Peak’s first confession was “a masterpiece with a very pregnant imagination.”[vii]
“He tells the story about how he found an unsigned note and it directed him to go to the rear of a particular drug store at a certain time and he would find a suitcase and to take the suitcase up to the rear of 2867 Ohio and to leave it there and then to go to a particular phone booth and wait for a call, which he said that he did, and the call came and he was instructed to call the police emergency number and lure the police.”
“Three days later…after this young man has conferred with his family and his attorney and the facts of life were brought home to him, for the first time the names Edward Poindexter and David Rice come from the mouth of this young man.”[viii]
“But that is not the only story the young man comes up with.”[ix]
“The third story not only implicates Rice and Poindexter but one other member of the NCCF, Raleigh House. This time the dynamite wasn’t in the Rice residence, Raleigh House took him up and brought it down to the Rice residence.”[x]
“September 28th, the preliminary hearing was held for Edward Poindexter and David Rice and this young man is sworn there under oath just as he will be when he is brought in here, and under oath he states that he doesn’t recall several of these incidents that allegedly took place, the meetings with Poindexter and other instances….What it was, was an outright refutation of this story implicating Rice and Poindexter.”[xi]
Mondo’s lawyer David Herzog addressed the jury. “Duane Peak laughed about the event; participated in discussions with his brother Donald Peak, Jr., who walked with him from place to place the day after the explosion and not once did the name David Rice arise in the conversation.”[xii]
Herzog told of interrogations when the confessions began to spill out. “The fanciful story is first constructed, is first manufactured, the first game that Duane starts to play.”[xiii]
“Thomas Carey, has made a deal, Duane Peak to testify against my client, David Rice. The barter and exchange you will hear about. What is the currency? The currency is the life of Duane Peak in exchange for the life of my client.”[xiv]
Public Defender Frank Morrison, whose long years outside a courtroom in the political arena left him rusty on trial procedure, showed his inexperience on the first witness, a police artist who made an exhibit illustrating the floor plan of the bombed house. Morrison found himself commenting, belatedly, on the admissibility of the exhibit earning a rebuke from the judge. “It has already been received into evidence.”[xv]
Crime scene photos, including one of the body, took the judge and lawyers into chambers. Herzog explained his objection to a photograph of Minard’s corpse from being entered as evidence because of its inflammatory nature. Hamilton overruled the objection. The jury would take a glossy photo enlargement of Larry Minard’s charred, nearly decapitated torso into the jury room for their deliberation.
The afternoon testimony was by various police officers. A diagram of the house was used to trace the activities of the police at the scene. Officers described the explosion and identified the suitcase’s location with each witness examining the photo of Minard’s body.
Dispatcher Milton Newcomer revealed that the police had not been using all of the new 911 communications equipment and could have traced the anonymous call. “We have that capability, yes….We had it but we had no reason to use it at that time.”[xvi]
Patrolman John Tess described a suitcase in the front door entryway. Tess observed the suitcase was noticeably clean compared with the heavy covering of dust inside the vacant house. “It was large, it looked like a two-suiter, and a newer brand, a light gray or a light green.”[xvii]
After Tess checked a bedroom, Larry Minard came from the back of the house to the front announcing the rear was secure. “I was alongside of him…and he proceeded to walk toward the exit…I was a little slower going out than Minard was and then there was an explosion.”[xviii]
John Toay, partner of Tess, testified about reporting for duty and getting a regular report from the intelligence squad by Jack Swanson. “It would also give us information on known militants, trouble-makers, trouble spots, tell us where they live, who they would hang around with, what kind of cars they were driving and things of this kind and we would also get mug shots if they were available of the persons involved.”[xix]
Toay explained that Poindexter and Mondo were two of individuals under watch by the Intelligence Unit. “They were the subject of some of our intelligence reports and we had occasion to know where they lived or where two of the locations that they frequented were, because they were in our territory.”[xx]
Toay described finding Tess in the debris. “He was bleeding. His pants had been ripped. Several holes in his legs with blood oozing through the trousers. He couldn’t hear. His glasses were gone. Generally he was in a very sad condition. He was very scared—very frightened.”[xxi]
James Sledge told the jury he was the first officer inside the house. Sledge described the suitcase for the jury. “There was a suitcase lying flat in the doorway….It was black vinyl. It was new—it appeared to be new.”[xxii]
On cross-examination, Sledge said his brother was with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division and had investigated the case. Sledge stated he and his brother had shared information with each other. Sledge did not tell the jury about his trip to Washington six months earlier with Captain Murdock Platner.
Throughout the day’s testimony Poindexter sat pensively, listening and talking to his attorney while writing notes on a legal tablet. Mondo appeared a bit more casual as he sketched drawings on a note pad. At other moments Mondo would put his pad aside and sit smiling in good-natured boredom.
On the second day of testimony patrolmen corroborated the previous day’s witnesses, although the color of the suitcase continued to change with each witness. Michael Lamson, partner of James Sledge, stepped over the suitcase. “It appeared to be a kind of light tan or gray in color, vinyl type of suitcase.”[xxiii]
Dennis Moran was the last of the officers who responded to the 911 call to testify. Moran described finding his partner in the rubble. “I knelt down beside him….I touched him and turned him a little bit and I observed that the side of his head was completely or nearly destroyed.”[xxiv]
Jack Swanson testified next. Swanson described the mission of his Intelligence Unit. “Our job is to provide information to the criminal investigation bureau in regard to any groups of persons who have goals that might disrupt the community; civil disorder, motorcycle gangs, organized rings of burglars, any group of persons that might be involved in conspiracy.”[xxv]
Swanson claimed he discovered dynamite from Mondo’s basement. “I personally removed fourteen sticks of DuPont Red Cross brand, both 40 and 50 per cent extra strength dynamite.”
“They were—the basement stairs were at the north end of the house and down the basement stairs, as soon as you got to the bottom of the stairs you turn to your right and right alongside of the stairs back kind of in a cubbyhole, a cut-away part of the wall, was this box of dynamite.”
“I transported it to Central Police Headquarters. I left it in the trunk of my cruiser car and got an I.D. bureau technician to photograph it and attempt to lift latent fingerprints from it.”[xxvi]
Thirty-two defense objections interrupted Swanson’s hour-long testimony. Hamilton sustained many of the objections. By the time the jury was recessed for the weekend they had heard from thirteen prosecution witnesses, most of them in uniform.
At the Omaha FBI office, Paul Young prepared a memorandum for J. Edgar Hoover advising that he had three student groups under investigation for counterintelligence measures. A SDS chapter at the University of Iowa, the New University Conference at two Iowa campuses, and the Nebraska Free Speech Movement which was “a group of dissident students on the University of Nebraska campus.”[xxvii]
The second week of trial opened with all the drama of the first. Elaborate security precautions were still being taken including body searches. However, a new security device was in operation, closed-circuit television cameras scanned the courtroom searching for potential troublemakers. The cameras triggered a defense motion for mistrial which the judge quickly denied.
Duane Peak, the prosecution’s star witness, entered in silence and took the witness stand. Prosecutors dressed Peak in a gray charcoal pinstripe suit with a tapered jacket and matching pink tie with handkerchief.
The day was spent with Arthur O’Leary’s examination of Peak. The jury listened in stoic silence and seemed at times almost disinterested with the proceedings as Peak testified. The jury foreman took on a favorite posture of leaning his head back to the wall. Several times during Peak’s testimony Hamilton admonished O’Leary for leading the witness.
Duane Peak testified that his family “split” when his mother died. “We broke up because of emotional problems.”[xxviii]
Peak said he was placed on probation following two arrests for fighting. Duane’s cousin, Frank Peak, introduced him to the National Committee to Combat Fascism. “The main function I did mostly was selling papers. Black Panther newspapers. They came from the national headquarters.”[xxix]
Peak testified he got a promotion and started giving lectures. “I was temporarily placed as an education cadre. He assists the Deputy Minister of Information. To assist in teaching liberation school.”[xxx]
Peak said he advanced again and became a “duty officer” at NCCF headquarters. “My duties consisted of answering telephone calls, taking reports from community.”[xxxi]
Peak claimed his sister Theresa and his brother Donald had both briefly been NCCF members. During pre-trial questioning Peak said he had both of them kicked out of the group, Theresa for her safety and Donald because of his attitude.
Peak said he saw Ed Poindexter and Robert Cecil at headquarters on August 10, a week before the bombing, and that he left with Poindexter walking down Twenty-fourth Street. “He said he had a beautiful plan to blow up a pig.”[xxxii]
Peak said he met again with Poindexter that evening at Frank Peak’s house. The two then left with Raleigh House in his car and drove to Mondo’s residence. “Edward Poindexter got out and he asked me to remain in the car and go up to Rollie’s house with him.”[xxxiii]
Peak testified that he went with House to his home. “Rollie parked his car and went in the house and told me to wait.”
Peak said he waited about fifteen minutes until Raleigh returned to the car. “Rollie came from behind the house with a suitcase. He brought it out to the car and put it in the back seat. It was a large suitcase and it was gray.”[xxxiv]
“We went down to the street behind David’s house….Rollie instructed me to take the suitcase over to the back door of David’s house….I knocked on the door and Edward Poindexter came from around the side of the house, and David opened the back door.”[xxxv]
“Ed set the suitcase on the floor and opened it.”[xxxvi]
“There were sticks of dynamite.”[xxxvii]
“Edward Poindexter asked David Rice to go downstairs and get a box. He went down in his basement and brought a box up.”
“Ed gave me a pair of plastic gloves and me and Edward Poindexter began taking the dynamite out of the suitcase and putting it in the box.”[xxxviii]
Duane Peak continued his story of emptying the suitcase except for three sticks of dynamite and constructing a bomb while Mondo took the rest of the dynamite to the basement. “Edward Poindexter and I began to tape the dynamite together….After we taped them together, he had two straps connected to the suitcase inside.”[xxxix]
“David and I went into the living room in his house and began balling up paper to put inside the suitcase….We tossed it in the kitchen where Edward Poindexter was.”[xl]
Peak said that Poindexter was hooking up a battery to some wires and a blasting cap when he returned to the kitchen. “He put the battery inside of the suitcase and then he mentioned that he wanted to punch a hole in the side of the suitcase….He began using a screwdriver to punch a hole in the side of the suitcase.”[xli]
Peak said after the bomb was assembled the suitcase was closed and locked and placed by Poindexter in Mondo’s bedroom.[xlii]
Peak said that Mondo left for a party while he and Poindexter sat on the porch and talked. Peak claimed that Poindexter wanted to place the bomb that night but that a ride never showed up.[xliii]
Duane said when he went to Frank Peak’s house the next evening William Peak was there along with Ed Poindexter and two other unknown persons. Peak claimed he and Poindexter later took a walk together to find a location. “We walked past the vacant house at Ohio at 2867 and he had mentioned that he wanted to look at the house….He mentioned that the house was in a good position; that there wasn’t too many lights and there was another vacant house next to it so people weren’t living too close.”[xliv]
Peak said that after he and Poindexter parted that night they didn’t see each other until Friday night at the American Legion club. Peak told about being part of a singing group and Poindexter was with friends. Peak claimed that he and Poindexter walked onto the dance floor to discuss the suitcase bomb.
“I asked Ed if he had planned on doing it, and he said he didn’t know, and I asked him for the key and I told him I would take it up.”[xlv]
Duane Peak said he went to NCCF headquarters on Sunday afternoon. “I had received a ride from Raymond Britt and Donald was also in the car….I remember I stood around headquarters for a while and then I talked with David Rice. He was sitting on the front porch.”[xlvi]
Peak continued his narrative introducing the only white person out of sixty people arrested during the police dragnet. Arthur O’Leary told the jury during his opening statement that Norma Aufrecht was a potential state witness but never called her to testify. The jury never heard Aufrecht confirm or deny Peak’s claim that she gave him a ride to pick up and transport the bomb. “I received a ride from Norma Aufrecht….David had arrived. He had left just before I did and he was standing out in the street talking to someone who he had received a ride from.”[xlvii]
Peak testified that Aufrecht waited in her car while Mondo let Peak into the house to get the suitcase. Peak said that Mondo also provided him with thumbtacks to arm the bomb. Peak claimed Aufrecht then drove him to the home of Olivia Norris where she dropped him off. After about a twenty minute wait, Donald and Theresa Peak came by the Norris residence, along with Raymond Britt. They all left together with Duane keeping the suitcase at his feet in the car. The foursome then drove to Delia’s apartment. “I sat down in a chair and put the suitcase in front of me….I remained there until 10:30 at night.”[xlviii]
Peak told the jury he waited at the vacant house about an hour before planting the bomb. “I had the suitcase open and setting on the railing on the porch and I just set it down between the door on the threshold. Right in the doorway.”[xlix]
Peak used a yardstick to show the jury how he placed the suitcase sideways in the doorway with the exposed wire up. Peak did not admit to attaching the trigger of the bomb to the floor and said that about three inches of wire were sticking out of the hole in the suitcase facing upward. “I waited on the railing for nearly a half hour and then I left. I sat and thought.”[l]
Peak walked to Annie Norris’ house and talked to her for fifteen minutes when he caught a ride around 1:00 a.m. “I went into Delia’s apartment upstairs and I had asked Delia for a dime to make a phone call.”[li]
Not getting any money from his sister, Peak said that he walked to Twenty-fourth and Lake Streets about 1:40 a.m. and asked people on the street for money. Obtaining a dime from a stranger Peak proceeded to a telephone booth next to Skeets Barbeque on Twenty-fourth Street. Peak testified he dialed 911 and made a report about a woman screaming at a vacant house. “I raised my voice and put it in a lower tone and explained that there was a woman screaming in a house at 2867 Ohio Street and I had been standing there and I saw a man drag her inside.”[lii]
Around the nation, public criticism of J. Edgar Hoover was rapidly growing. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs called for Hoover’s ouster on the floor of the House of Representatives. Hoover’s top administrator, John Mohr, sent Hoover a letter of support. “I condemn these efforts and want to implore you to disregard this concerted attack upon you. For every jackal there are many thousands who support you to the fullest extent and want you to stay at the helm for many more years to come.” [liii]
Alex Rosen, head of the Investigative Division, joined in the effort to cheer Hoover up. “If these bastards think for one moment they will be effective they are in for a sad reckoning.”[liv]
Hoover provided details of the call for his removal in a memorandum to Clyde Tolson. Boggs had accused Hoover of using the “tactics of the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Gestapo.”[lv]
Hoover also sent Clyde Tolson and others a memorandum concerning the MEDBURG burglary. Hoover lamented about “the one great weakness of my administration of the Bureau that this burglary took place.”[lvi]
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- [i] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 127, April 1, 1971
- [ii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 128, April 1, 1971
- [iii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 129, April 1, 1971
- [iv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 143, April 1, 1971. Thomas Kenney never followed up on the voicegram and no further reference to the recording was made at trial.
- [v] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 147, April 1, 1971
- [vi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, 148-149, April 1, 1971
- [vii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 143-144, April 1, 1971
- [viii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 144, April 1, 1971
- [ix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 145, April 1, 1971
- [x] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 146, April 1, 1971
- [xi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 146-147, April 1, 1971
- [xii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 157, April 1, 1971
- [xiii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 159, April 1, 1971
- [xiv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 1, p. 164, April 1, 1971
- [xv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3, p. 176, April 1, 1971
- [xvi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3, p. 200, April 1, 1971
- [xvii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3, p. 215. April 1, 1971
- [xviii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3, p. 216, April 1, 1971
- [xix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3. p. 232, April 1, 1971
- [xx] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3, p. 233, April 1, 1971
- [xxi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3, p. 241, April 1, 1971
- [xxii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3, p. 248, April 1, 1971
- [xxiii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3, p. 267, April 2, 1971
- [xxiv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3, p. 311, April 2, 1971
- [xxv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3, p. 316, April 2, 1971
- [xxvi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3, p. 354, April 2, 1971
- [xxvii] FBI Vault, New Left-Omaha, p. 34, April 2, 1971
- [xxviii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 381, April 5, 1971
- [xxix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 386, April 5, 1971
- [xxx] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 389, April 5, 1971
- [xxxi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 398, April 5, 1971
- [xxxii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 418, April 5, 1971
- [xxxiii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 421, April 5, 1971
- [xxxiv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 422, April 5, 1971. Another version Peak told had Raleigh House bring the suitcase out the front door. The discrepancy was not explored by defense attorneys.
- [xxxv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 423, April 5, 1971
- [xxxvi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 3, p. 424, April 5, 1971
- [xxxvii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 425, April 5, 1971
- [xxxviii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 427, April 5, 1971
- [xxxix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 428, April 5, 1971
- [xl] Trail Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 430, April 5, 1971
- [xli] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 440, April 5, 1971
- [xlii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 446, April 5, 1971
- [xliii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 449, April 5, 1971
- [xliv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 455, April 5, 1971
- [xlv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 462, April 5, 1971
- [xlvi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 463, April 5, 1971. Mondo was at Memorial Park at an outdoor meeting with the SDS attended by 100 people. Defense attorney David Herzog was unaware of Mondo’s alibi.
- [xlvii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 465, April 5, 1971
- [xlviii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 470, April 5, 1971
- [xlix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 474, April 5, 1971
- [l] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 475, April 5, 1971
- [li] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 477, April 5, 1971
- [lii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 4, p. 479, April 5, 1971
- [liii] Archive.org, John P. Mohr, Vol. 5, p. 91, April 5, 1971. Boggs died in a small airplane crash in Alaska four months later. The plane was never found and his body was never recovered.
- [liv] Archive.org, Alex Rosen, Vol. 8, p.240, April 5, 1971
- [lv] Archive.org, Clyde A. Tolson, Vol. 9b, p. 12, April 5, 1971
- [lvi] Archive.org, Clyde A. Tolson, Vol. 9b, p. 14, April 5, 1971
About The Author
Michael Richardson is a former Omaha resident who attended Westside High School and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Richardson was a VISTA Volunteer on the Near-Northside and served on the Nebraska Commission on Aging before moving from the state. Richardson attended the Minard murder trial and reported on the case in 1971 for the Omaha Star in his first published article. After a nineteen year career as a disability rights advocate, Richardson worked for Ralph Nader coordinating his ballot access campaigns in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. Richardson has written extensively for the San Francisco Bay View, OpEdNews.com and Examiner.com about the trial while spending the last decade researching and writing the book.
- “Framed” Preface by Michael Richardson
- A History of the Near North Side Neighborhood
- A History of the Omaha Star Newspaper