January 14, 2015 7:47 AM MSTMichael Richardson
The suitcase bomb that killed Omaha policeman Larry Minard, Sr. on August 17, 1970, put two Black Panther leaders in prison for life. Doing hard time at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary, Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (then David Rice) are known as the Omaha Two, where both men continue to deny any guilt in the crime.
The Omaha Two were convicted following a controversial trial which featured conflicting police testimony and withheld evidence. A FBI Laboratory report on the identity of the anonymous caller that led police to an ambush bomb was withheld under orders of J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Hoover ordered the FBI Laboratory director Ivan Willard Conrad to not issue a written report as part of the illegal COINTELPRO program, a clandestine counterintelligence operation which targeted the Black Panthers.
In the months leading to the deadly blast Hoover had put increasing pressure of Omaha FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Paul Young to get the Omaha Two off the streets. In December 1969, Hoover told Young in a stern COINTELPRO memorandum to be “imaginative” in devising a counterintelligence actions against the two Black Panther leaders.
The two week trial in April 1971 was filled with contradictory and conflicted testimony but nothing was in greater dispute than the color of the deadly suitcase bomb itself.
Duane Peak, the fifteen-year old confessed bomber, who got off on a juvenile delinquency charge after implicating the Omaha Two, said the suitcase was “gray, real dark gray” in a police deposition. Of course the young killer is not the most reliable witness and also gave several different stories about where he got the suitcase.
Raleigh House, the man Peak testified at trial supplied the suitcase and dynamite, was never charged in the case. House’s lenient treatment by prosecutors has led many to suspect House was a government informant. There is no direct evidence against House except for the testimony of Peak. While House was briefly in police custody he was not checked for traces of dynamite.
Several police officers stepped over the suitcase as they entered a vacant house looking for a screaming woman. Although it was dark and they were in a hurry, the police officers disagree on the color of the suitcase. Four of the surviving officers saw the suitcase but gave conflicting descriptions.
Patrolman James Sledge said at trial, “It was black vinyl.” However, Sledge told one officer for a police report that the suitcase was green and told yet another officer that it was brown. Patrolman Michael Lamson wasn’t sure at trial, “It appeared to be a kind of a light tan or gray in color.” Lamson had earlier reported the suitcase was green. Meanwhile, Patrolman Kenneth Tworek said in a police report the suitcase was brown.
Patrolman John Tess kept changing the color of the suitcase. Tess was interviewed at a hospital shortly after the bombing and said the suitcase was “blue or gray.” At trial, Tess said the suitcase was “light gray or a light green.”
Delia Peak, the bomber’s sister, didn’t know what color it was even though it sat in her living room. Delia did note, “It looked like it was new.”
Raymond Britt, Delia’s boyfriend, helped Duane Peak remove the suitcase from a car trunk. Britt didn’t know too much at trial either but said the suitcase was a “light color.”
Was the suitcase gray, tan, black, green, brown, blue, or a light color? The Omaha World-Herald described the suitcase for the public in an article the day after the bombing: “In the hushed blackness of the vacant house at 2867 Ohio Street, a light green suitcase stood on the warm floor.”
Perhaps the color of the suitcase bomb is unimportant to the guilt or innocence of the Omaha Two, but the widely differing colors by eyewitnesses hints at some of the difficulties Edward Poindexter and Mondo we Langa encountered in trying to establish their innocence in the COINTELPRO-manipulated trial, unable to disprove alleged facts against them.
What color was the suitcase bomb? It was the color of injustice.
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