Adam’s Note: This is Chapter 22 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.
“That is just one more lie that Duane Peak told.”
—Rae Ann Schmitz on Duane Peak’s testimony
The murder trial resumed with Rae Ann Schmitz appearing as a witness for Mondo. Schmitz testified she was a student at Creighton Law School and had known Mondo since 1966 when they were both new students at Creighton University.
Although David Herzog called Schmitz as an alibi witness for the bombing, his poor trial preparation left Herzog unaware Schmitz was also an alibi witness for the alleged afternoon rendezvous with Duane Peak to pick up the suitcase. Schmitz would later explain that she believed she was to be a character witness and that Herzog only spoke with her briefly in the courthouse hallway before she testified.
Schmitz said she hosted a party at her house and Mondo was there from 7:30 p.m. to 4 a.m, including the time of the fatal explosion. Donald Knowles stumbled across the second alibi during cross-examination. Schmitz surprised everyone as she told of being with Mondo on Sunday afternoon when Duane Peak claimed he met with Mondo. “We had been with him earlier in the afternoon. On that Sunday. At Memorial Park.”[i]
“It was between about 1:30 and 4:30, probably, in the afternoon.”
“We left together. I took him to Kountze Memorial Park. About 4:30… There was to be a rally there that afternoon and he was going to speak.”[ii]
Schmitz said the drive between the two parks put the drop-off time close to 5:00 p.m., approximately two hours after Duane Peak claimed during pre-trial questioning he had talked with Mondo at NCCF headquarters. Frank Morrison asked no cross-examination questions, apparently unaware of the significance of Schmitz’s testimony contradicting Peak’s version of events.
Schmitz remains angry, years later, that the jury believed Duane Peak instead of her. However, because of the defense failure to develop the timeline of Sunday afternoon the jury did not realize they were listening to alibi testimony. Schmitz summed it up in an interview over forty years later. “That is just one more lie that Duane Peak told.”[iii]
Charles Terry, warden of the Douglas County Jail, testified that none of his prisoners, including Poindexter and Mondo, received the kind of treatment Duane Peak got at the Dodge County Jail. Terry’s prisoners got no outside family visits, stays in motels, or meals at the Silver Lining restaurant.
Peak’s lawyer, Thomas Carey, was the next witness. Carey was asked about a deal with prosecutors for a lesser charge. “I talked to them about it, yes.”[iv]
Mondo began his testimony in the trial for his life. Mondo’s mother, Vera Rice, was in the courtroom as she had been throughout the trial. Questioned about the construction of a bomb, Mondo flatly denied any role in the fatal bombing the summer before. No secret meetings with Duane Peak, no suitcase, no dynamite.
When asked if he hated policemen, Mondo was quick to respond. “No, I don’t hate anybody. I don’t have an angle like this.”[v]
Donald Knowles conducted the cross-examination of Mondo. Knowles asked if the two had any prior contact before the trial proceedings. Mondo replied both were in attendance at the Democratic State Convention. “You was kind of perturbed because I was teasing you.”[vi]
Knowles asked about Mondo’s duties as Deputy Minister of Information for the National Committee to Combat Fascism and questioned Mondo’s authorship of certain newsletter articles. Mondo admitted writing that Congressman William Scherle from Iowa was an imbecile.[vii]
Mondo said that during the time of Peak’s bomb stories, he was busy trying to save his outreach worker job. “Well, at that time I was trying to get my job back at GOCA… I was running around to different people working in the organization and the fair employment thing trying to get my job back and get a hearing established.”[viii]
Mondo was asked about the day before the bombing when he was with Rae Ann Schmitz. Mondo said she dropped him at Kountze Park about a quarter to five. “There were about five or six people who had shown up which wasn’t nearly enough and I talked to them for a while. A few minutes, maybe twenty minutes.”[ix]
Sometime after 5 p.m. Mondo walked to the NCCF headquarters where he stayed for a few minutes before hitchhiking home. Mondo did not recall seeing either Poindexter or Peak.
Knowles asked Mondo about the discovery by police of dynamite and blasting caps at Mondo’s home. Mondo said he had a coal bin in his basement but not a cubbyhole as testified to by Jack Swanson. When asked about blasting caps Mondo was blunt. “Not in my house.”[x]
Mondo admitted that a set of pliers which police seized from his kitchen were his which he used to hook up stereo equipment. Mondo quipped that he would not need blasting caps for the stereo. Mondo repeated that Duane Peak had never been to his house with a suitcase and that no bomb was ever built at his house.
The defense rested their case at after calling fourteen witnesses. Judge Hamilton informed the jury that the next time they would return to court they should be prepared to stay overnight. “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. You have heard all of the evidence that you will hear in this case.”[xi]
Frank Morrison’s closing argument has been called one of the finest speeches in his long career. The former three-term governor’s plea to the jury has been lost as no record was made. Newspaper accounts summarized the content but lacked the passion that Morrison poured out to the jury. Some observers have credited Morrison’s closing argument with saving the lives of Poindexter and Mondo by convincing the jury to not sentence the two defendants to the electric chair.
Morrison told the jury that in his entire lifetime he never had a more important assignment than defending Edward Poindexter.[xii]
Morrison’s voice, choked with emotion, said that for the first time in his life he has seen the prosecution “try to convict basically on the testimony of one witness… That witness is an admitted perjurer.”
Morrison said the writing in the newsletters put out by the National Committee to Combat Fascism, which the prosecution said helped establish intent, reminded him of “things that came from Paul Revere, Patrick Henry and John Hancock.”
Morrison described Duane Peak as “this fanciful young man who can spin yarns with unbelievable felicity.” Morrison said Peak had a mind “so paranoid and demented that when this tragedy happened, he spent a day laughing about it.”
Morrison told the jury to consider what motivated Peak. Morrison said Peak was moved to act because a “white policeman shot and killed Vivian Strong” and that another white policeman once called Peak a “fat dirty nigger.”
The ex-governor mentioned his friendship with five presidents while explaining justice to the jury. Morrison alluded to slavery, the Bible and the Gettysburg Address in his plea to acquit Poindexter. Morrison quoted Shakespeare. “The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.”
Unaware of FBI manipulation of evidence under a COINTELPRO directive from J. Edgar Hoover, Morrison prophetically said it was this nation’s system of justice that was on trial in Omaha and not just Mondo and Poindexter.
Morrison used a large balance scale to illustrate his points placing the scale on the rail in front of the jury. While Morrison discussed the evidence he dropped a weight on one of the two trays. When Morrison finished the scale tipped sharply in Poindexter’s favor.[xiii]
The jury received the case at 3:50 p.m. and deliberated until 11 p.m. after a two hour supper break. The jury was taken to the Hilton Hotel for the night. The jury remained sequestered for the next two days while they deliberated. At 10:43 a.m. on Saturday morning, the jury buzzed the bailiff to report a verdict had been reached.
The news media was notified through telephone calls by deputies to individual reporters that the jury had reached a decision. Spectators had to sign in to enter and only a few of them were in the courtroom when the jury entered around noon.
Mondo sat quietly waiting for the verdict. Poindexter sat at upright looking straight ahead. The jurors, who had deliberated for nearly twenty-five hours since Wednesday afternoon, took their seats in the jury box. Judge Hamilton asked the jury if a verdict had been reached.[xiv]
The court clerk read the decision of guilt with life sentences, first for Poindexter then for Mondo. Hamilton ordered the two defendants taken to the Nebraska State Penitentiary to serve their sentences “at hard labor.”[xv]
Mondo said in a short interview following the verdict that he “did not get a fair trial” calling the case against him a “maze of conjectures.” Mondo criticized the Omaha World Herald and local radio and television stations for slanting “towards the prosecution” in news broadcasts.[xvi]
“I’m not going down to the state pen and say everything is beautiful. I’m going to fight it and I’m going to go back onto the streets and do the same things, speaking out against the evils of the system which got me convicted.”
Ed Poindexter cursed when asked if he wished to be interviewed and he was led away without making a statement.
Within an hour after the jury found them guilty, on April 17, Mondo and Poindexter where taken from the Douglas County Jail where they had been held since August and transported to prison in Lincoln to begin serving life sentences. The two men were shackled and each taken in separate cars.[xvii]
Following the trial, the jury foreman whom Poindexter accused of sleeping during the trial, Myron Widger, Jr., was asked what took the jury so long to reach a verdict. “There were a lot of little things.”
Widger said the jury agreed they would not discuss details of the deliberations.[xviii]
If Poindexter had given a statement about his trial, it is likely he would have complained about his defense attorneys. In letters from prison, Poindexter outlined some of the mistakes made by his lawyers. “There was ineffective assistance of counsel at the trial by failure to interview six potential witnesses with exculpatory information.
“George McCline said he had knowledge of who committed the crime and where the dynamite used was stored. Tyrone Stearns said he knew the source of the dynamite used in the crime.”
“Richard Gibson had information regarding who killed the policeman. Anthony Sanders had knowledge of two white men holding bomb making classes in the community.”
“Patrick Jones had information regarding who sold the dynamite to the individual who planted the bomb that killed the policeman. Finally, an “unnamed informant” tipped police that a black male was selling dynamite.”
“The attorneys failed to vigorously pursue Donald Peak’s testimony concerning the contents of Duane’s suitcase.”
“There was the failure to vigorously pursue a valuable lead in a Social Security card found at the crime scene belonging to Johnny Lee Bussby.”
“Counsel called Robert Cecil to the stand, asked a few questions and excused him without asking him how he got dynamite particles all over his hands.”
“There was failure to at least enter an objection into the record for allowing a sleeping juror to remain on the jury, but wearing a pair of sunglasses.”[xix]
“The jury foreman slept all throughout the trial, I complained to the lawyers, they took a short recess, then returned with the man wearing sunglasses for the rest of the trial as he continued sleeping.”[xx]
“Raleigh House was implicated by Duane Peak, but the state did not pursue it because they were after only Mondo and myself, the so-called ringleaders. Selective prosecution is the term for that. Robert Cecil was found to have had dynamite particles all over his hands, but the state never pursued him.”
“Also note that he was not even asked any questions related to the dynamite particles found on his hands during his testimony at the trial, not by the prosecution or defense.”[xxi]
“The state also always knew Duane did not make that 911 call, but did not care who really made it because they were only after Mondo and myself.”[xxii]
Mondo had more criticism of the trial. “Regarding the testimony of Duane Peak, from the time he was arrested to the time of the trial, Duane Peak gave a minimum of six different versions of the plan to “off a pig”. Of all these versions, only one, which he gave at the trial, implicated me as having anything to do with the death of Minard.”
“How can a witness tell even two different stories and one of them not be a lie? Duane Peak told a minimum of six. Duane Peak is a perjurer.”
“All of Duane Peak’s testimony linking me to the blowing up of Minard was negated by witnesses for the defense, two of them his own cousins.”[xxiii]
“I don’t believe he acted on his own. But I did not use him. I did not put his life in jeopardy.”[xxiv]
“The prosecution claimed a piece of copper wire was found at the “scene of the bombing,” that markings on this wire were compared in a lab to markings left on a piece of lead cut by pliers found in my house. The wire wasn’t actually found at the scene of the bombing but in the basement of the house next door, about three feet from a tool bench.”
“The only copper wire testified to as being used in the bombing was that from the blasting caps. That wire was a half to two-thirds smaller in diameter than the wire found at the house next door to the bombing.”[xxv]
“There are all kinds of things about the case that are really pretty basic and pretty outrageous that are part of the record that people don’t know about.”[xxvi]
“I was sentenced, as was Poindexter, to life imprisonment. But this was a case of two Africans who called police “pigs,” who preached self-defense against unprovoked police attack, who called for revolutions, and who occasionally carried guns. Had that jury been convinced of my guilt, it is inconceivable that I would have been sentenced to anything other than death. That jury had deliberated from Wednesday to Saturday. Its members, or some of them, were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, they simply could not let an African man who called police “pigs” get away with that.”[xxvii]
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- [i] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1018, April 13, 1971
- [ii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1020, April 13, 1971
- [iii] Rae Ann Schmitz, interview by Kietryn Zychal, July 2014
- [iv] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1037, April 13, 1971
- [v] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1058, April 13, 1971
- [vi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1063, April 13, 1971
- [vii] Mondo did not know that the Omaha Police Department provided testimony to Scherle in October 1970, when Mondo was falsely blamed by Captain Murdock Platner for supplying the dynamite that killed Larry Minard.
- [viii] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1086, April 13, 1971
- [ix] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1091, April 13, 1971
- [x] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1094, April 13, 1971
- [xi] Trial Transcript, Vol. 6, p. 1104, April 13, 1971
- [xii] “Minard Jurors Break for Sleep,” Robert Hoig, Omaha World Herald, p. 1, April 15, 1971
- [xiii] “Minard Jurors Break for Sleep,” Robert Hoig, Omaha World Herald, p. 2, April 15, 1971
- [xiv] “Appeal Route Likely To Aim at Evidence,” Robert Hoig, Omaha World Herald, p. 2, April 18, 1971
- [xv] “ Rice and Poindexter Start Life Terms in State Pen,” Robert Hoig, Omaha World Herald, p. 4, April 18, 1971
- [xvi] Rice Says Trial Wasn’t Fair,” Omaha World Herald, p. 2, April 18, 1971
- [xvii] Appeal Route Likely To Aim at Evidence,” Robert Hoig, Omaha World Herald, p. 1, April 18, 1971
- [xviii] “Rice and Poindexter Start Life Terms in State Pan,” Omaha World Herald, April 18, 1971, p.2
- [xix] Edward Poindexter, letter to author, November 17, 2008
- [xx] Edward Poindexter, letter to author, July 28, 2010
- [xxi] Edward Poindexter, letter to author, March 3, 2008
- [xxii] Edward Poindexter, letter to author, February 25, 2008
- [xxiii] Mondo, “To The People”, 1972
- [xxiv] Mondo, “Word from the inside,” Omaha Star, June 22, 2006
- [xxv] Mondo, letter to author, January 27, 2008
- [xxvi] Mondo, prison interview, September 8, 2007
- [xxvii] Mondo, Can’t Jail the Spirit, Prison Activist Resource Center, Fourth Edition, 1998
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
- “The FBI and Omaha’s Black Panthers” by Michael Richardson and Thomas Gunning for The Reader on February 9, 2018.
- Nebraska’s Two Political Prisoners
- “Mondo’s Art Gallery“
- THE BLACK PANTHER IS AN AFRICAN CAT, Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa’s volume of poems and raps
- Nebraskans for Justice website