Nebraska killer contradicted trial testimony to state senator in COINTELPRO case

Nebraska killer contradicted trial testimony to state senator in COINTELPRO case

August 11, 2015 3:18 PM MST

A policeman and his killer, Larry Minard, Sr. and Duane Peak

A policeman and his killer, Larry Minard, Sr. and Duane Peak
Omaha Police Department/official photos

A court researcher discovered a micro-cassette tape recording in a box at the Douglas County Courthouse regarding the murder of Omaha Patrolman Larry Minard, Sr. The researcher made a transcript available of the recording on August 11 and the details are now published for the first time in this exclusive report.

Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers, a politician known for his independence, has been trying to bring justice to the murder of Omaha Patrolman Larry Minard, Sr. ever since the bombing that claimed Minard’s life on August 17, 1970. Chambers, then a community activist, held several public meetings in the days after the crime questioning the police investigation which zeroed in on the Black Panthers. In 1990, Senator Chambers travelled to Spokane, Washington and interviewed the confessed bomber, Duane Peak, in an effort to get the truth.

Chambers was targeted as the mastermind of the Minard murder by Lt. James Perry, who was in charge of the police murder investigation. Perry asked Douglas County Attorney assistant prosecutor Sam Cooper to charge Chambers but Perry said in a 2002 interview with a private detective that Cooper refused because charging Chambers would trigger rioting. Chambers has denied he was the subject of attention by Omaha police, however, his name appears on a suspect list prepared by detective Jack Swanson, who worked under Perry.

Duane Peak made a deal with prosecutors to testify against Black Panther leaders Edward Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, then David Rice, in exchange for his freedom. Peak was allowed to plead guilty to juvenile delinquency instead of first-degree murder and was sent to reform school instead of prison. When Peak aged out of the juvenile system he was released and disappeared. Peak’s whereabouts was the subject of several court hearings in 1980 as Mondo sought to reopen his case.

Mondo and Poindexter were convicted on the strength of Peak’s testimony against them and remain in prison, serving life sentences. The two men were counterintelligence targets under COINTELPRO of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. When Mondo surrendered after being charged for murder, he was accompanied to the police station by Chambers who has remained the most outspoken advocate for the Omaha Two, as the two inmates have come to be called. The FBI withheld laboratory evidence on the identity of an anonymous 911 caller, allowing Peak to claim he made the call that led Minard to his death.

Peak was finally located in Spokane by a British film crew making a documentary about the case but he refused to talk with them on camera. When Ernie Chambers learned of Peak’s location he decided to visit the confessed killer and see if he could get Peak to answer some questions. Ben Gray, now on the Omaha City Council, accompanied Chambers on the trip to Spokane. Gray then worked as a reporter for KETV in Omaha and hosted a weekly program called Kaleidoscope. The two men also wanted to get a recording of Peak’s voice to compare with the deep, gravelly voice on the 911 recorded call.

Chambers and Gray showed up on Peak’s doorstep unannounced and Chambers got Peak to invite them in. Gray operated a micro-cassette recorder which captured the conversation. Peak’s soft voice is often inaudible on the recording. The tape was turned over by Chambers to authorities and it made its way to the Douglas County Court Clerk office where it has sat for twenty-five years in a box of miscellaneous exhibits from the case. The interview recording reveals details about life in exile from Omaha but Peak claimed he did not remember much about the bombing.

Peak did not want to talk about the crime. Peak rambled about his fears and failures, offering excuses and explanations in a confused stream of consciousness during his first conversation about the murder in two decades since the trial. Peak poured out his bottled up rationalizations to Chambers and Gray. However, one emotion Peak did not express was remorse for Minard’s death. At the trial, Peak’s sister testified Duane and Donald both laughed about the murder. Peak has never made any known statement expressing any regret for Minard, only for himself and the trouble he got himself into.

Chambers directly asked Peak if he placed the suitcase bomb in the house. Peak mumbled an answer, “Hmm huh.”

Chambers asked about the 911 phone call but Peak avoided answering: “I am not going to try and make myself remember. I can’t….If I could remember, I don’t want to try and tell you something that I think because I haven’t really thought about it, I guess.”

Peak recalled his brother Donald was present at his arrest: “I can remember, it was at night when they arrested me. Umm, Donny was there, Donny was there.”

Chambers pressed Peak to open up explaining he did not need to fear retaliation, “I’’ve never heard anybody say they have a desire to do anything to you.”

“Don’t tell me that.” Peak snapped back. “I missed out on my whole family life, for twenty years. I never knew that.” Peak continued his theme of woe is me. “All I had, uhh, I got one letter from my dad, you know, and it was a real brief letter. I guess there was some things that happened in his life that were real devastating, and umm, that I talked to my grandfather maybe once or twice every year.”

Peak continued his rambling tale of woe focusing on himself, ignoring a dead policeman and two men in prison for life. “I had to do everything on my own. You, know, I haven’t gotten any help, you know, money wise, or anything, from anybody, and just the drive to try and be something good in my life for, you know, I wanted to show my grandpa that it wasn’t all bad…I could have achieved something.”

Chambers confronted Peak with a letter Mondo we Langa had written to Ben Gray denying any role in the bombing. Peak countered, “That thing was made in David’s basement. It was his basement.”

Peak denied witnessing the construction of the bomb. None of Peak’s previous six versions of the crime, including sworn testimony, support Peak’s claim to Chambers that the bomb was assembled outside his view in Mondo’s basement. At trial, the bomb was allegedly assembled by Ed Poindexter in the kitchen while Peak watched on. Every time Peak has told the story he has offered a different version.

Chambers and Gray returned to Nebraska, submitted the recorded interview, and returned to their careers. Chambers continues to serve the residents of Omaha’s Near Northside as a state senator in Lincoln. Gray has left KETV television and is now on the Omaha City Council.

Duane Peak’s voice was tested by forensic audiological analysis in 2006 and it was determined by internationally acclaimed expert Tom Owen that Peak did not make the 911 call, leaving an unknown killer, Peak’s accomplice, still unaccounted for. Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa remain imprisoned at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary where they continue to deny any part in the crime. The Nebraska courts have never addressed the role of counterintelligence manipulation of the trial under the COINTELPRO program. Now, with the Chambers interview, Duane Peak is left telling one more lie about the murder of Larry Minard, Sr.