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Former Black Panther convicted in 1970 bombing of Nebraska officer dies in prison

A former Black Panther serving a life sentence in the killing of a white Nebraska police officer in a home bombing over 50 years ago has died in prison.

Edward Poindexter, who always maintained his innocence, died on Thursday at the age of 79, according to the Nebraska Department of Corrections. The department said a grand jury will conduct an investigation, as required by state law for any inmate death.

"While the cause of death has not yet been determined, Poindexter was being treated for a medical condition," the department said in a news release.

In a 2022 appeal to Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen, advocates for Poindexter said he had advanced kidney disease and had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

Both convicted men maintained their innocence, doubted key witnesses

Members of the Black Panthers line up in a paramilitary formation at an anti-fascist demonstration in Oakland, California, on Dec. 20, 1969.
Members of the Black Panthers line up in a paramilitary formation at an anti-fascist demonstration in Oakland, California, on Dec. 20, 1969.

Poindexter was one of two former Black Panthers who have maintained their innocence in the 1970 fatal bombing of Omaha Police officer Larry Minard. The other Black Panther was David Rice, who also died in prison in 2016.

The two accused an FBI program for targeting them because of their affiliation with the Black Panther Party, arguing the agency undermined radial political groups. The pair also questioned the legitimacy of testimony that led to their conviction but were unsuccessful in their multiple appeals.

Last year, local activist Preston Love Jr. called for Poindexter’s release and his arrest and Minard's were the result of the fears of the ’60s and that Poindexter had paid his debt to society, according to local television station WOWT.

Teen said he lured officer to the explosion over the phone

At trial, a teenager testified that he made a phone call that lured the police officer to a vacant house before the homemade explosive detonated. The teen was granted immunity in exchange for his testimony against Rice and Poindexter and said that the two men directed him to plant a suitcase loaded with dynamite.

As part of one of Poindexter’s appeals, a voice expert analyzed the phone call and said it was "highly probable" that the recording appeared to be made by an adult man and did not match the witness's voice.

The recording was never played at court and in one of Poindexter's appeals said his attorneys never requested a copy of it during the trial. Various judges claimed the doubts surrounding the recording did not warrant a new trial and the Nebraska Pardons Board rejected calls to commute the pair's sentences.

Advocate says 60s environment shaped convictions

Love Jr., a University of Nebraska Omaha professor and a friend of Poindexter's family, said the volatile atmosphere toward the Black community and the Black Panther Party shaped the outcome of the 1971 conviction.

"The relationships between the police and the community, and I guess FBI as well, was fragile at the nicest," Love Jr. told USA TODAY on Friday. "There was a movement by some group that set up that situation. The crime did happen but there was no substantial evidence to say that David Rice and Ed Poindexter committed the crime, but they were easy prey."

He described the trial as "questionable," mentioning reports of "shenanigans" including people changing their testimony and being afraid for their lives.

"There wasn't much what I call full investigative work that was done to prove it," he said. "It was that they had found them and they were the ones fit a profile. They were with the 'violent Black Panther Party' with that, that's not necessarily the case."

Contributing: The Associated Press

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ex-Black Panther Edward Poindexter dies in prison during life sentence