The late Frank Morrison, a former Nebraska governer, was appointed Douglas County Public Defender in Omaha in 1971. Three months into his new job, Morrison defended Edward Poindexter, a Black Panther leader, at a murder trial where Poindexter faced the electric chair. Poindexter and co-defendant Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, former David Rice, were charged with the bombing death of Patrolman Larry Minard, Sr.
Morrison managed to keep his client out of the electric chair but failed to clear Poindexter of the charge. Morrison inherited an overloaded case list and a limited budget. Morrison’s lack of experience as a defense attorney did not help Poindexter either. However, what neither attorney nor client knew was that the evidence was tampered with in the case and that the two defendants, now known as the Omaha Two, were targets of a clandestine counterintelligence program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Morrison made a public apology to Ed Poindexter in 1997 for his handling of the case.
“As a citizen, a former prosecutor and Governor of this state, I abhor, detest and condemn the cowardly, cruel and unjustified murder of officer Minard. My heart aches for his family. The guilty parties should pay the penalty. The self-confessed murderer was turned loose after a slap on the wrist.”
“In my opinion, it is just as important for the state to protect the innocent as to prosecute the guilty. As Public Defender of Douglas County, it was my official duty to represent Ed Poindexter. He told me then that he was innocent of this crime, and I still believe him. We did not have the resources in the Public Defender’s office to get all of the facts in this case.”
“I now believe and always have believed that the true role of law enforcement is a search for truth. Real justice can only be built on truth. I hope the Congress and other policy makers will re-establish this policy. I feel both I and the system failed Ed Poindexter.”
Morrison also wrote about Nebraska justice and the difficulty of defending Ed Poindexter in his memoir My Journey Through the Twentieth Century.
“Racial feelings in North Omaha were rampant….It was impossible for them to get a fair trial,” wrote Morrison.
“I firmly believe that with adequate funds to investigate the case, I could have cleared both Rice and Poindexter in spite of the poisoned atmosphere created by racially inspired rhetoric,” declared the former governor.
“I had been a prosecuting attorney, Governor, and Chairman of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. I was acquainted with many of our justice system’s shortcomings, but nothing brought it home to me like serving as Public Defender. In practice, there was no such thing as equality before the law.”
The Omaha Two were convicted after a controversial trial marred by a withheld FBI Laboratory report as a part of the infamous COINTELPRO operation. Additionally, the clothing of both Poindexter and Mondo turned up with dynamite particles, after the clothes were in custody of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division. ATF was engaged in an intense rivalry with the FBI for jurisdiction of bombing cases. A published photograph in the Omaha World-Herald of Mondo with his hands in his pockets disproves that dynamite particles were there at the time of his surrender. Mondo’s hands tested clean despite an allegedly dirty pocket. At the local police level two different detectives, Jack Swanson and Robert Pfeffer, have both claimed under oath to have found dynamite in Mondo’s basement, each one contradicting the other.
Frank Morrison went to his grave believing in the innocence of Ed Poindexter and considered the conviction of the Omaha Two as the lowest point of his professional career. Mondo and Poindexter remain at the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary serving life sentences.