With Eddie Conway

Rattling the Bars: The Case of the Omaha Two

In this episode of Rattling the Bars, Executive Producer Eddie Conway speaks with freelance journalist Kietryn Zychal about political prisoners Ed Poindexter and David Rice

Story Transcript

EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway, coming to you from Baltimore, and thanks for joining me for this special segment of Rattling the Bars.

America has hundreds of political prisoners, some known, some unknown, and just recently, I noticed that something was going on in the Midwest with the health of one of those prisoners. Ed Poindexter has been held for 40-some years in Omaha, Nebraska, in surrounding prisons. And his health has been in question for several months now. The person, Ed Rice, that was held with him had recently passed away, and I’m concerned about the tension that’s being focused on this political prisoner’s case.

Joining me, to give us, kinda like, an update, and an overview, is Kietryn Zychal. She’s a supporter of Poindexter, and also a journalist. Kietryn, thanks for joining me.

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: Thanks for having me, Eddie.

EDDIE CONWAY: Can you just give me some background on Ed Poindexter, why is he in prison, and for so long?

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: Okay. Well, first of all, I would like to give you a message from Ed. I visited him yesterday at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, and he wanted to thank you very, very much for doing a show on his case. Because he… he and David Rice, who changed his name to Mondo we Langa — they’ve gotten very little attention in the media in the 46, 47 years that they’ve been in prison. And Mondo, of course, is now dead. He died last year.

And, what happened to put Mondo and Ed in jail, is that a 911 call was made on August 17th, 1970, in Omaha, Nebraska, and a male voice, deep male voice, reported that a woman had been dragged screaming into a vacant house in north Omaha, in the black community. Two police officers were assigned to cover that call, two were assigned as backup, and then four police officers responded to the call because they heard it on the radio.

And one of those police officers was killed when a suitcase bomb exploded as he was exiting the house. Some of the officers went in the house to look for the woman who was supposed to be screaming, and then the first officer to exit the house either tripped over the suitcase, or kicked it, and it exploded, and it killed him. Demolished the house, knocked people over who were standing on the street.

Within five days, the police received information — the boy, named Duane Peak had been seen that night carrying a suitcase. And I have a suitcase back here, later on, I’ll demonstrate for you what he’s supposed to have done with that suitcase –- and Duane Peak became the prime suspect in that officer’s murder, because he was seen carrying a suitcase that night. And his sister, once they arrested his entire family, and took them down to the police station, his sister did tell the police that she had driven him to the neighborhood of 28th and Ohio. With that suitcase, and she dropped him off around 10:30, eleven o’clock at night. And then the next day, he had made some statement… thinking that he was responsible for killing the police officer.

He was on the lam until about the end of August, and when he finally submitted himself to the police, his first statement was. “I got a note telling to go to the Lothrop Drug Store, and pick up a suitcase behind the incinerator.”

And then he was supposed to have the suitcase at 28th and Ohio that evening, 10:30, eleven o’clock at night. And then he was supposed to put the suitcase, not at 2867 Ohio, but to leave it in a vacant lot on the field side of a fence. And then he was supposed to go to a pay phone at 2:00 in the morning. The phone rang, and a woman’s voice that he did not recognize, told him to call 911, and report that a woman had been dragged screaming into 2867 Ohio.

I think that portions of that story may be true, because it is not possible to carry a suitcase bomb, with a clothespin-triggering device for six hours, on a Sunday afternoon. Take it into three different vehicles, throw it in the trunk of the last vehicle where you’re getting the ride to 28th and Ohio, because seven people are in the car, including two small nieces who are three years old, and one year old.

So, after three days in custody, that first statement Duane Peat made on August 28th, by August 31st, he gave a completely different story to the county attorney, where he said, “Oh, these two guys, Rice and Poindexter, they made the bomb at David Rice’s house, Ed Poindexter made it, I watched him do it in the kitchen, and then they told me,” –- this 15-year-old boy –- “…that I should pick up the bomb, and deliver it to 28th and Ohio, and make the 911 call.”

And that’s why Mondo, and Ed, are in jail. Because no one ever questioned the absolute absurdity of that claim that Duane Peak made, that he carried a bomb with a clothespin-triggering device — and I’ll show you the device in a second — for six hours on a Sunday afternoon.

People just always assumed that that boy was guilty, that he had the bomb, and that he must have made the bomb with his relatives.

EDDIE CONWAY: Well now, what happened? Did they have a trial, a jury trial? I mean…

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: (laughs) Oh, my God. Yeah. Yeah, of course, they had a trial. It started on April 1st, 1971. And the jury was 11 white people, and one black man. And the ATF presented evidence, forensic evidence, but mainly they were convicted on the testimony of the boy, Duane Peak, because he gave this elaborate story of making the bomb on Monday, August 10th, and then meeting with Mondo or Ed, or trying to meet up with them and missing them, seeing Ed on Friday night. And then picking up the bomb on Sunday, and getting the car ride from a woman named Norma Aufrecht, you know, to pick up the bomb at David Rice’s house.

Because this story was so elaborate, people assumed — and it was detailed — people assumed that it must be true, and the attorneys never really questioned, is it possible to carry a suitcase bomb with a clothespin-triggering device for six hours on a Sunday afternoon without letting it explode?

EDDIE CONWAY: Well… well, tell me then, what has happened since then? I know that there are a number of people that recognize Ed Poindexter as a political prisoner, including Amnesty International. What happened since that trial that indicates that they were political prisoners?

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: Well, I actually try to avoid the whole political prisoner thing, because this is Nebraska.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay.

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: This is a very red Republican state. You would have to, first of all, teach people what does it mean to be a political prisoner. And then you’d have to convince them that they were political prisoners. Because in 2007, like the most recent time that Ed had an opportunity to go to court, the prosecutor read some of the newsletters from the NCCF that they had written, and, you know, these guys were young. They used revolutionary rhetoric. They used language about police officers that you probably wouldn’t use today, and so the county attorney was just grilling him, “Is that your political beliefs? Your political beliefs are killing police officers?”

So, you know, I just avoid the whole political prisoner thing entirely, because I think you can get a lot more sympathy, if you simply frame it as, these are two innocent men. One now dead, who were framed for a crime they didn’t commit, and they cannot get back into court, because the courts believe in finality of convictions.

And no matter how much evidence the attorneys, or the investigators dig up, that shows that these men had… they were convicted based upon perjured testimony, coerced testimony, withheld evidence –- no matter what they find, to show that evidence to say, “Please let me back in the court, so I can do discovery. So that I can get a fair trial, and get to the bottom of who really killed Larry Menard…”

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay, but… Okay. So, you say that there is evidence that his attorneys did dig up evidence, maybe Amnesty International, so on. What kind of evidence? What…

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: Okay, the first…

EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah.

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: …and foremost thing, is that there was a Jesuit priest, named Father William Cunningham, who was David Rice’s appellate attorney. And Father Cunningham actually argued the case before the United States Supreme Court, in Stone versus Powell, Wolf(?) versus Rice, which was his appeal, based on the search of his house being illegal.

It was a 4th Amendment case. Father Cunningham did an incredible amount of service for David Rice, and he filed numerous Freedom of Information Act requests, because he was being denied the right to do discovery, so Cunningham had to file FOIs instead. Some of the major pieces of evidence that they got, are that the 911 call made to the police — Duane Peak testified at the trial that he made the call. But the Omaha police — well, first of all, the defense attorneys never listened to the 911 call — the prosecution never played the 911 call at the trial, and then the FBI and the Omaha police had some communication about a memo, where the Omaha police requested that the FBI send the tape back to them. The FBI was going to analyze the tape, do voice analysis on it.

And then in October, two months after the bombing, the Omaha police sent this memo, Glen Gates, the assistant chief of the police saying, “Oh, don’t analyze tape. Send it back to us. We’re not going to play it at the trial. It would be prejudicial against our case against Rice and Poindexter.” And the reason that the tape was prejudicial, is that it’s not the voice of Duane Peak.

So, the person who is actually responsible for killing Larry Menard, the identity of the 911 caller, that is unknown to this day. It’s definitely not Mondo’s voice. It’s definitely not Ed’s voice. Duane Peak was actually submitted to voice analysis in 2006, and you can… online you can listen to the half-hour deposition, or one-minute edited piece, and it’s not Duane Peak’s voice. So, nobody knows who really made the call to 911 that lured the police to the house. That’s the most important piece of evidence that the courts don’t seem to care about.

The second one piece of evidence, is something I just alluded to, where there’s an FBI memo obtained way back in the ’70s, through the Freedom of Information Act, that says Glen Gates requests that the FBI not analyze this tape. The Omaha police want it back, and we don’t want to use it at the trial. So, that’s a really good piece of evidence that should’ve gotten him back into court, but did not.

The third piece of evidence is a letter that Duane Peak wrote the night of the preliminary hearing in September, a month after the bombing. He expresses remorse for what has happened, and he alludes to other people who might have been involved. The letter is very vague, but it definitely shows that this boy was in a state of mind where he had been coerced, and he was doing what he thought he had to do. And those are really the major pieces of evidence.

And also, here’s another piece of evidence that never made it into court. I don’t know if you can see that. Okay, this is a picture of David Rice, right before he turned himself in. He is flanked by police officers –- this is Pitman Foxall, who’s known David Rice since he was a little boy. Here you can barely see Marvin McClarety. David Rice turned himself into these two African-American detectives.

Notice how his hands are shoved deep into his pockets? And it’s August? Obviously he’s nervous, his hands are probably hot and sweaty. When David Rice turned his clothes over to the police, they found chunks of dynamite, visible to the naked eye in his front pants pocket. But his hands did not test positive for dynamite.

So, how do you put your hands in your pockets when your pockets have so much dynamite in them the chemists can see that it’s dynamite without having to analyze it?

So, David Rice has always contended… unfortunately, nobody noticed this photograph until the mid-’90s — when I first started doing my research — and I noticed it and put the two and two together. But, you know, it never made it into an appeal; it never made it back into court.

But it’s really… you know, it’s good visual proof that you can’t put your hands in your pockets if your pockets are full of dynamite, and not get dynamite on your hands.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. So, so…

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: You can’t talk about … international and I’ll get back to that in a second if you want to ask…

EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah, yeah, because we’ve got to be conscious of our time here. What is the situation now, in terms of support for Ed Poindexter? Is there any support out there — organized around his case?

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: Yes. There has been a longstanding defense committee, called Nebraskans for Justice, and it had several names. In the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, there was always a defense committee. And they do support them, but any active investigation is not really happening right now.

What I’m trying to do, is to get Ed to fill out an application for the Nebraska Innocence Project, and the Midwest Innocence Project, so that he can get representation by them. Of course, you have to apply to them. They have to accept your case. And then they have to work on it.

So, it’s a long process, but I really would like to see Ed have the opportunity to have different representation, have somebody else, fresh eyes on the case, because he hasn’t been speaking to his legal team for a number of years, and (inaudible)

EDDIE CONWAY: Well, I…

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: (inaudible)

EDDIE CONWAY: I was under the impression that Amnesty International had actually looked at his case, and had taken a position that he was, in fact innocent, or didn’t receive a fair trial, or… What happened with that Amnesty International?

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: That was a long time ago. Back in 1977, Amnesty International got the Nobel Prize, I think. And then the following year, they looked at a number of cases in the United States, I’m going to say a dozen or more, of people that they considered potentially political prisoners.

It was the ’70s and, you know, they were certainly in a position to use that phrase. And David Rice’s case –- interestingly, David Rice only, not Ed Poindexter –- was included in that group of people that they were researching their cases to see if they had been convicted for crimes they didn’t commit, because they were affiliated with radical political organizations.

And so, there was a Washington Post article January 8th, 1978: Are these America’s political prisoners? They profiled each of their cases. I know they had a conference, where people came and they discussed the various cases of… I think the Wilmington 10, and Gary Tyler, were in that group, as well. And then in 1991, Amnesty helped fund the documentary that was made by two British journalists, George Case and Joe Bowman, of 20/20 Productions, and they were an independent production company, and they made a documentary about both the Geronimo Pratt case, and the Rice and Poindexter case. It’s an hour long, and you can see it on the website N2pp.info, that stands for “Nebraska’s 2 political prisoners”. It’s Buddy Hogan’s website, the past president of Omaha’s NAACP.

After that documentary was made, I think people hoped that someone would hear about their case, and that they might get attention, that Geronimo Pratt, of course, was represented by Johnny Cochrane, and he did get out of jail. But Mondo and Ed are here in Nebraska, and there has just been no attention for their case.

EDDIE CONWAY: Well…

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: And…

EDDIE CONWAY: Well…

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: Haven’t been able to get what they need to get back in court.

EDDIE CONWAY: I was under the impression that a number of people, Ramsay Clark, Danny Glover, et cetera, is there no high profile name people interested in this case?

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: I think people are interested in this case, but here’s the real problem. Who really made the call? Who really made the bomb? So, either it’s some… what people have always assumed, as I told you, was that this kid, Duane Peat, this 15 year old, made the bomb with his relatives, and that the police… this is what was said in the British documentary. The police weren’t interested in the truth. They wanted him to implicate Rice and Poindexter, because they were head of the Black Panther Party. And so Mondo and Ed, have difficulty proving that they’re innocent, because nobody knows what really happened, and no investigation has ever been done to try to figure that out.

So, yes, periodically, Angela Davis will come here, make a speech or visit them. Danny Glover came ten years ago, or so. But there hasn’t been any kind of real sustained movement around this case. What I would really love to see happen, is I would love to see someone do a podcast, or a documentary about it, so that it could become like the next serial, you know, that podcast that was done with “This American Life.” Or it could become the next “Making a Murderer.”

And I was hoping that Dean Strang, from “Making a Murderer”, he’s the attorney who represented the defendant in that case, he was supposed to… he and a producer were pitching a show to a production company in L.A. And I just found out, like, a week or so ago, that they did not get green-lit, so there’s not… I was hoping they were going to come here and do a piece on Ed’s case, and then they would get national attention. But the show, which was going to be called, “Road to Justice”, did not get green-lit. And so now, we’re sort of back to square one of trying to figure out how we could get attention for them, since we now… we’re just back to square one again.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Well, what’s the state of Ed’s health right now?

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: Well, Ed was rushed to the hospital on December 19th, and on December 20th, he had triple bypass surgery. I visited him in… well, basically, the prison hospital, two weeks ago, and he showed me his scar. It’s a ten-inch scar. And I visited him yesterday. He’s back at Nebraska State Penitentiary, and, of course, he’s in a wheelchair. He’s not walking right now. I mean, he walks a little bit for exercise, but he’s recovering from triple bypass.

And he told me that the scar was actually oozing. You know, that when he took his shirt off, his T-shirt was kind of covered in… like… the scar was pulling open, and it looked like it was healed when I saw him two weeks ago.

So, I’m very concerned, because Ed has diabetes. And so it’s very difficult to heal from wounds when you have diabetes, so, you know, Ed needs… For those of you who believe in God, Ed needs prayers. But…

EDDIE CONWAY: Is there a contact address, or information where people can get in touch, and maybe give some support, or write letters, or something?

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: Yes. I want people to go to Buddy Hogan’s website, and to please read the information that’s on there. Again, it’s www — N, as in Nebraska, 2, p, p, for political prisoners, dot, info — N2pp.info — Ed’s address is on there. It’s PO Box 2500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68542, and his inmate number is 27767.

Absolutely write to him, but unfortunately, one of his other health problems, is that his eyesight is bad, from diabetes most likely, and he can’t read very well right now. Everything is blurry. So, whenever I write to him, I write with a Sharpie, so that in… in big block letters, so that, obviously I don’t write very long letters right now because, because his eyesight is bad.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. So… so keep me posted if any new developments come up that we need to look at it.

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: And here, there’s something… There’s something that I would really like people to do. This is N2pp.info…

EDDIE CONWAY: Oh… Our time is short. What’s this…? Okay.

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: If they go down here to where you see the girl’s picture, click on that, and there is a petition that we want people to sign. To get an investigation into the ATF, because the ATF, not the FBI, were the major force behind what happened to Rice and Poindexter.

And if we can get the ATF agent investigated, who put this little girl’s name on an affidavit and claimed she saw men making bombs and dynamite and machine guns at Panther headquarters. If we can get an investigation based on sympathy for this girl who disappeared after her name was put on that affidavit, we might be able to pull the first string that would start an actual Department of Justice investigation into what happened in Omaha in 1970.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Thank you, and tell Ed, I sent my greetings and I hope…

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: I sure will.

EDDIE CONWAY: … he recovers. Okay.

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: And you know what? I hope you’ll do another show on the case, because there’s still much more we could talk about, and I never even got to show you my bomb.

EDDIE CONWAY: All right. Okay. But we have to wrap up.

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: Okay. All right.

EDDIE CONWAY: All right, thank you for joining me.

KIETRYN ZYCHAL: Thank you. Thank you for caring about Ed.

EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. And thank you for joining this episode of Rattling the Bars.

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