Adam’s Note: This is Chapter 21 of FRAMED by Michael Richardson. Find the rest of the book here. Please leave your thoughts, notes, memories or other information in the comments section below.
“I was unjustly accused of a crime.”
—Edward Poindexter, April 12, 1971
Detective Jack Swanson was called to testify. Sam Cooper asked Swanson about dynamite he claimed he removed from Mondo’s basement. Swanson said samples of the dynamite were taken by Thomas Sledge after it was transported to the detective bureau. Thomas Kenney asked Swanson to refresh his testimony about where he found the dynamite in the basement.
“No, it wasn’t in a hole dug in a wall, it was just a place that didn’t go all the way down to the floor but there was—like starting right here, there was a place where you could store different things back there. When you looked back in this space, you could see it.”[i]
Swanson answered that he was the first one to find the dynamite then listed others present. “As I recall, it may have been Sgt. Pfeffer or Agent Sledge from the Alcohol, Firearms Division. I couldn’t tell you for sure. I informed someone that I thought we had some dynamite in the basement. Well, there were at least four or five other parties because we examined this carefully before we moved it. We were looking for the possibility of a–that there might have been wire or something. It wasn’t moved for at least ten or fifteen minutes after we discovered it.”[ii]
Asked again who saw the dynamite before it was removed, Swanson tightened his answer. “Well, Agent Curd was there and Sledge and Bob Pfeffer.”[iii]
Paul Klotz, an evidence technician, took the stand and told the jury that neither Duane nor Donald Peak, Jr. were tested for traces of dynamite although Robert Cecil was hand swabbed.[iv]
Cooper questioned Robert Pfeffer next. Pfeffer was asked about blasting caps he said he found.
“There were four all told that were found on a radio in the front room.”[v]
“No, pardon me. The dynamite caps were found in a roll of linoleum alongside of the radio in the front room.”
When asked about dynamite, Pfeffer quickly answered, “Sgt. Jack Swanson found the dynamite.”[vi]
Kenney asked Pfeffer when he first saw the dynamite. “When Sgt. Swanson carried the box up from the basement of the Rice house.” Kenney then asked if Pfeffer ever saw the dynamite in the basement. Pfeffer contradicted the testimony of Jack Swanson, “No, I never went down.”[vii]
Pfeffer was asked to read a supplemental report he wrote on the search of Mondo’s house where the dynamite “was in the basement hidden under a wooden door.”[viii]
Jerald Volcek was the next witness and he described the crime scene search. “I worked with Officer Dalgleish from the Alcohol, Tobacco Tax Unit….I found a small piece of copper wire in the basement of the residence which is Roscoe Vaughan’s residence.”[ix]
Volcek said he found the wire in the basement of 2875 Ohio, near a toolbench.[x]
Thomas Sledge identified himself as a “Special Investigator.” Sledge said he had been with ATF for a little over two years, following nine years with the Omaha Police Department. “I went down to the police station about five A.M. and checked on my brother.”[xi]
Sledge then went to the crime scene for a twelve-hour stint collecting evidence. Sledge also told of trips to Washington, D.C. “I delivered the evidence on the 20th of August. I delivered it at the Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms laboratory; turned the evidence over to chemist Kenneth Snow.” Sledge made a second trip five days later delivering more evidence to Snow.
Sledge said he removed dynamite with Jack Swanson from the residence and that the first time he saw the dynamite was in the basement. “Yes, we took it down to the police station and a special investigator, Dailey, and myself emptied two of the sticks….We also took samples of each stick and the dynamite was placed in plastic sacks.”[xii]
Sledge then got caught in a lie while reviewing personnel present at the crime scene. Sledge was asked if he knew David Singles. “Yes, I do.”
Sledge was then asked if Singles was present at the crime scene. “Well, I don’t really know who he is.”[xiii]
Kenneth Snow, a forensic chemist at the ATF Laboratory, testified that dynamite particles in the clothing of Mondo and Poindexter were ammonia dynamite. Curiously, Snow found small chunks of the explosive. “They were small aggregate particles which contained visual, first impression, I would say that they were on the brown side. They contained small particles of sulphur, yellowish material, white particles of sodium ammonia nitrate and some type of building material.”[xiv]
Snow said the particles of dynamite found in Poindexter’s jacket pocket could have been there “two or three months” or “longer.” Snow said the particles removed from Poindexter’s pocket were similar to particles in vials that Sledge transported to the laboratory.
Frank Morrison had Snow tell the jury he found dynamite particles in a pants pocket of Robert Cecil, who was not charged in the case. Cecil also failed the hand swab test and had traces of dynamite on both hands. Snow testified that swab tests of Poindexter’s hands revealed no trace of dynamite. Mondo’s hand swabs were also negative for dynamite. Snow also tested swabs from someone named Peak, first name unknown, and from someone named Johnson.[xv]
Robert Scroggie, a specialist on explosives from the ATF Laboratory, testified a three-stick dynamite bomb could be detonated with only one blasting cap’[xvi]
Scroggie revealed he had been coached by Thomas Sledge on the construction of the model bomb exhibit presented in court. “I was summoned to Omaha and at that time Agent Sledge showed me a diagram, an electrical diagram of a bomb.”[xvii]
“Agent Sledge asked me to assemble the bomb in this suitcase according to the diagram, which I did.”[xviii]
Scroggie’s other consultant on the bomb model, was Duane Peak. Scroggie said he met with Peak three days earlier. However, Scroggie didn’t find Peak so knowledgeable about bombs. “Mr. Peak indicated on Tuesday that he thought it had been rigged with one of each of the contact wires from the battery running directly to each thumbtack on the clothespin. Anybody who would wire a device this way would immediately set off the cap because you would have a direct circuit.”[xix]
Frank Morrison conducted cross-examination of Scoggie and asked if the County Attorney’s office had requested “certain examinations.” Scroggie said he had not been asked by prosecutors to participate in the investigation. “Investigator Thomas Sledge was the one who asked me to do it.”[xx]
Scroggle went on to describe the bomb as “one of the most common” and that any “normal fifteen-year-old boy” could construct it.[xxi]
Roland Wilder, a tool marks examiner from the ATF Laboratory, testified. Wilder said that under a comparison microscope he looked at marks on a piece of copper wire and a lead sample cut with a pair of long-nose pliers submitted for examination. Wilder said he found fifteen “points of identification” and thus formed an opinion that the pliers cut the wire.[xxii]
David Herzog asked Wilder if he had equipment capable of photographing the points of similarity. Wilder said the laboratory had photographic microscope equipment but that he did not use it on the wire because it was difficult to photograph such an uneven surface as the wire.
Mondo whispered to Herzog and told him to ask how many points of dissimilarity there were. Wilder gave a surprising answer given his opinion the pliers and wire were a match. “There would be approximately 25…they would be scattered across the width of the edge, also.”[xxiii]
Wilder continued to insist that fifteen points of similarity outweighed twenty-five points of dissimilarity and there was a match. Wilder was forced to admit that he had failed to conduct a comparison test with a similar pair of pliers. Wilder said the pliers were common unbranded Japanese pliers that probably cost one dollar and had not been used much.
Before leaving the courtroom at the end of the day, Mondo examined the wire to discover it was corroded and had a different diameter than the blasting cap wire.
David Herzog implored Judge Donald Hamilton to limit his consideration of the search warrant for Mondo’s house to the “four corners” of the document and not include extraneous information in a review. Hamilton explained why he ruled against the motion to suppress evidence. “I based it on two grounds; one, I could go outside the instrument and two, on exigent circumstances. Really, my ruling was on both. I just kind of slid that exigent circumstances in.”[xxiv]
The prosecution rested its case after calling thirty-two witnesses and submitting forty-two exhibits.
Linda Walker was the first witness for the defense. Walker testified she was with Ed Poindexter the evening before the bombing and that he was with her until after the explosion. Walker said she and Poindexter went to a movie and then went out to eat before ending up at her grandmother’s home where she was staying. After talking on the porch for an hour, Poindexter departed. “I went back into the house and as soon as I shut the door, I heard a large noise, a loud noise. It sounded like an explosion of some kind and I opened the door and Eddie was coming back in the gate.”[xxv]
“I asked him what the noise was and he said he didn’t know.”[xxvi]
Roosevelt McCoy was the next witness. McCoy testified he saw Duane Peak with a suitcase on the evening prior to the bombing at Delia Peak’s apartment. McCoy said he asked Peak about the suitcase but got no answer.
Russell Peak followed on the witness stand. The eighteen year-old cousin of Duane Peak had been transported from the Nebraska Penal Complex where he was imprisoned. The obviously reluctant witness told of a conversation the prior summer with Duane about the construction of a bomb. Russell confirmed a statement he gave police on the matter. “He was just telling me how, how the way you could construct a bomb out of a suitcase. He didn’t specifically go into any details, he was just telling me how this can be done….the way he was explaining it, it seemed to me he didn’t actually know how to go about making such a thing.”[xxvii]
Raleigh House, the man Duane Peak testified supplied the suitcase and dynamite for the bomb, was the next witness. Curiously, House escaped serious questioning by the prosection during cross-examination. The only question House was asked about the bomb was from Thomas Kenney, who merely asked if House remembered giving a suitcase to Duane Peak, to which House said, “No.”[xxviii]
House said after his arrest his hands were not tested for traces of dynamite.
House said he was Minister of Finance for the United Front Against Fascism and confirmed an article he wrote for the local newsletter explaining the name change to the National Committee to Combat Fascism House said that he had not been to the NCCF headquarters since the end of July.
William Peak was called after House. William said he was a third cousin to Duane Peak and gave some family history about how Duane came to be homeless. “Well, Duane’s daddy used to like to drink a lot and he would go down the street and come back and beat up his wife and the kids and he stabbed Jackie two or three times and they used to fight all the time and so one day he got mad and pulled a shotgun on all of them and told them to all get out and not come back.”[xxix]
William Peak denied that Duane had met and left with Poindexter at the Peak house anytime during the week before the bombing. William recalled an encounter with Duane and police. “Duane was with me and the police stopped us, first one car stopped us and they put us both up against the car and then about six more cruisers came and they started to handcuff Duane and me so they grabbed me and threw me on the ground and commenced to beating me and kicking me and Duane told them to stop it, not to do that to his cousin, and so they grabbed Duane and hit him two or three times and threw him in the other car.”[xxx]
Peak showed the jury three scars from the incident and he testified he also suffered from a torn ligament in his knee. “The police said, “We are going to kill these niggers,” and they grabbed Duane and they said, “We are going to kill this little fat nigger here.” They began beating on folks.”[xxxi]
William Peak denied being at the American Legion Club on Friday night before the bombing and said he was at a party at Jim Grigsby’s house with Ed Poindexter. Peak also confirmed Poindexter’s account of Duane once shooting a gun at NCCF headquarters. “A sparrow flew in the window and so he started shooting and he shot seven holes, two through the floor, one through the ceiling, so I took the gun away from him before he grabbed the shotgun.”[xxxii]
Frank Peak, Jr. took the witness stand and denied that Duane and Poindexter were ever at his house together.[xxxiii]
Virginia Rivers, Ed Poindexter’s mother, was the next witness. Rivers told how Ed joined the Army when he was seventeen years-old, just after high school. Ed’ mother testified he lived with her following his honorable discharge from the Army. She said Poindexter never had any explosives or bombs around the house.
Morrison conducted the examination of Ed Poindexter. Poindexter, clad in a denim jacket and bell-bottom pants, appeared confident and described his Army life. After discharge from the Army, Poindexter said he went to work for the Post Office in Atlanta but moved back to Omaha in February 1969 after his marriage soured.
Poindexter said he first met Duane Peak in November 1969 when Frank or Will Peak brought Duane to the United Front Against Fascism headquarters. Poindexter told of disciplining Peak for drug use. “Well, I never actually saw him take them but I remember sometime during the winter of ’69 and ’70 he was put on two weeks’ suspension for being out, for being on red devils.”[xxxiv]
Poindexter said he never showed Peak how to make a dynamite bomb in a suitcase. Poindexter also denied giving Peak any instructions about the bombing or meeting Duane at Frank Peak’s house. Poindexter denied going to Mondo’s home with Raleigh House or having anything to do with construction of a bomb.
Poindexter related that after his arrest, his clothes were confiscated and he was released from jail without them. “I was almost naked.” The clothing was taken by Thomas Sledge to deliver to the ATF Laboratory.[xxxv]
Poindexter said he did not know how particles of dynamite got into the pocket of his camouflage jacket. The jacket was acquired in Vietnam, Poindexter testified. He said he helped transport some dynamite while in Vietnam but had no other contact with explosives than that. Poindexter also said that prior to Kenneth Snow’s testimony he did not know that Robert Cecil had dynamite traces on his hands.
Poindexter denied being at the American Legion club as Duane Peak testified and said he was at a party instead. “I think I stayed there pretty late. I got drunk and I woke up after everybody was gone.”[xxxvi]
Testifying in a clear and steady voice, Poindexter told the jury that he never talked with Duane Peak about “how to kill a pig” and never knew Larry Minard nor had any reason to kill him. “I was unjustly accused of a crime, or accused of a crime I haven’t had anything to do with.”[xxxvii]
Poindexter testified he joined the Black Panthers during 1969. When the national organization disbanded the Omaha chapter later that year, Poindexter testified he joined a successor group, the United Front Against Fascism and later another group, the National Committee to Combat Fascism, which he headed.
Poindexter’s affiliations created hostility by police. “Well, they didn’t like me personal because I criticized them and because the organization criticized them, other members of the organization criticized them, you know.”
When asked directly about involvement in Larry Minard’s murder, Poindexter promptly replied. “I had nothing to do with it.”[xxxviii]
Arthur O’Leary asked Poindexter to examine six issues of NCCF newsletters which were introduced as evidence. Poindexter confirmed authoring some articles in some of the newsletters but said he had no knowledge of some of the other writings.[xxxix]
O’Leary asked Poindexter if he knew what the expression “Off the pig” meant. Poindexter replied, “It means defend yourself from them.”[xl]
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- [i] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 712, April 8, 1971
- [ii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 713-714, April 8, 1971
- [iii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 714, April 8, 1971
- [iv] The failure to test Duane and Donald for dynamite traces despite multiple witnesses who placed then with a suitcase in the hours before the bombing was a collosal omission which compromised the investigation.
- [v] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 729-730, April 8, 1971
- [vi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 730, April 8, 1971. Nearly four decades later Pfeffer would change his story and claim he, not Jack Swanson, found the dynamite. Pfeffer was never charged with perjury.
- [vii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 732, April 8, 1971
- [viii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 733-734, April 8, 1971. Pfeffer’s version of events changed with each telling. At post-trial proceedings Pfeffer contradicted his own trial testimony.
- [ix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 740, April 8, 1971
- [x] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 745, April 8, 1971
- [xi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 747, April 8, 1971
- [xii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 757, April 8, 1971
- [xiii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 766, April 8, 1971
- [xiv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 5, p. 808-809, April 8, 1971
- [xv] The hand swab tests on someone named Peak must have been on Frank, William, or Russell as neither Duane nor Donald were tested. Johnson was an alias of the man caught with Duane Peak.
- [xvi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 843, April 9, 1971
- [xvii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 844, April 9, 1971
- [xviii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 845, April 9, 1971
- [xix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 849, April 9, 1971
- [xx] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 852, April 9, 1971
- [xxi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 853, April 9, 1971
- [xxii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 859, April 9, 1971
- [xxiii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 867, April 9, 1971
- [xxiv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 874, April 12, 1971
- [xxv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 882, April 12, 1971
- [xxvi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 886, April 12, 1971
- [xxvii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 900, April 12, 1971
- [xxviii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 903, April 12, 1971
- [xxix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 915, April 12, 1971
- [xxx] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 919, April 12, 1971
- [xxxi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 919-920, April 12, 1971
- [xxxii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 934, April 12, 1971
- [xxxiii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 937, April 12, 1971
- [xxxiv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 965, April 12, 1971
- [xxxv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 970, April 12, 1971
- [xxxvi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 972, April 12, 1971
- [xxxvii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 977, April 12, 1971
- [xxxviii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 981, April 12, 1971
- [xxxix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 986, April 12, 1971
- [xl] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 989, April 12, 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 Black Panthers