Freedom for Ed Poindexter

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Hannah Michelle Bussa
CONTRIBUTOR

A billboard on Highway 75 campaigns for Ed’s freedom. Photo courtesy of Kietryn Zychal.

Though many believe him to be innocent, Ed Poindexter has been in custody since he was arrested in Omaha in August of 1970.

Around 2 a.m. on August 17, 1970, an unknown man called 911 to report that a woman had been dragged into a vacant house at 2866-2867 Ohio Street. Eight officers responded to the call, including Larry Minard. Minard was killed by a suitcase bomb that went off once the house was entered.

Later, police and prosecutors admitted that they immediately suspected members of the National Committee to Combat Fascism (NCCF) – where Poindexter was one of the leaders. Their assumptions were in line with the broader cultural context of the time.

J. Edgar Hoover had called the Black Panther Party “the greatest threat” to the security of the United States in July of 1969. Fred Hampton was killed in December of 1969. Though the NCCF was not part of the nationwide Black Panther Party in 1970, they did have previous connections to it.

Omaha was not separated from this context. In 1969, Vivian Strong was killed by a white police officer. Strong was a 14-year-old unarmed Black girl. Her death sparked riots.

Within five of Minard’s death, police had information that 15-year-old Duane Peak was seen with a suitcase on Sunday, August 16. He became a prime suspect.

Police raided the home of NCCF leader David Rice – who was later known as Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, or Mondo. Police claimed to find dynamite in his basement. Mondo heard about the raid and fled, claiming that he didn’t have dynamite at his house.

Police then raided the NCCF headquarters and arrested leader Edward Poindexter. Days later, he was released for lack of evidence.

On August 31, Peak gave a statement to the district attorney in which he accused Ed Poindexter of building a bomb in Mondo’s kitchen on August 10. He said he delivered the bomb a full week later on Poindexter’s instruction and made the 911 call. Poindexter was arrested and has been in custody since.

In a later deposition, Peak said that he was kept in a windowless cell the weekend he made that statement. He mentioned being questioned by Lt. James Perry several times over that weekend, though there are no police reports for August 29 or 30.

Peak’s testimony at trial in April 1971 was the only direct evidence of Poindexter and Mondo’s involvement. At a pretrial hearing, Peak, who was only 16 years old, refused to say if Poindexter and Mondo were involved. Later, he returned to the stand with puffy eyes and said they were.

Former Senator Ernie Chambers was in the courtroom the day Peak testified. He said he felt sure that Peak had been roughed up in between, though Peak denies this.

Recently, there have been renewed calls to free Poindexter. Kietryn Zychal is a freelance journalist involved in this case. She began researching it in 1995 and has been working with NOISE Omaha to share Poindexter’s case.

“Ed decided in 2018 that he did not want to die in prison like Mondo, who passed away in the prison infirmary in March 2016,” she said. “Ed asked attorneys Tim Ashford and Brad Thomson in 2019 to help him apply for a commutation of his life sentence to time served so he could be released on parole.”

UNO Professor Preston Love, Jr. is also involved in the calls to free Poindexter. He has helped to form a group that includes Ed’s niece Ericka Payne to ask for the public’s support.

Poindexter is now 76 years old and in poor health with multiple medical conditions. The current reality of the pandemic in prisons has also been part of the push to get Poindexter released.

Before he was arrested, Poindexter had been honorably discharged from the U.S. military. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service and volunteered in Omaha. He had also been elected as a delegate to the Douglas County Democratic Party convention in 1970.

After his arrest, Poindexter has continued his work. He was a leader of the Harambee Association. He completed an associate’s degree through Southeast Community College. He was transferred to Minnesota’s prison system in 1979 to complete his bachelor’s degree in human services from Metro State University of St. Paul. He also did coursework in a master’s program in management of industrial systems through Goddard Graduate School in Montpellier, Vermont.

In Minnesota, Poindexter taught youth self-improvement groups within the prison. He ran a juvenile detention hotline. He wrote screenplays and became a member of Toastmasters International. He is also an author.

Poindexter returned to Nebraska’s prison system in 2006. He has satisfied the conditions for parole. If released, he would pose no risk to the community.

This year, the group working to get him released put up a billboard on Highway 75.

“We want students to drive by it, look at the website, read the NOISE Omaha articles, and hopefully write to the Pardons Board to tell them that [Poindexter] has been punished enough and deserves compassion and release.”

The NOISE Omaha articles can be found here.

The Nebraska Pardons Board can be contacted at ne.pardonsboard@nebraska.gov.

Join the letter writing and call campaign here.

Find more information at FreePoindexter.com.

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