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It's been 49 years since Ed Poindexter began serving his life sentence for first-degree murder in the death of Omaha Police Officer Larry Minard, who died when a suitcase bomb containing dynamite exploded in a north Omaha home on Aug. 17, 1970.

Poindexter and Mondo we Langa, who had changed his name from David Rice, both were convicted of Minard's killing and sentenced to life in prison. We Langa died in 2016 after serving 44 years in prison. 

Many people have long fought for Poindexter's release or sentence commutation, believing he and we Langa were not guilty of the killing but were political prisoners, framed for the murder charge because of their affiliation at the time with the Black Panther Party.

The Black Panther Party is described as a revolutionary socialist political organization founded in 1966. Many of its members took up arms to protect black neighborhoods from police brutality.  

Poindexter Courtesy photo

Before we Langa's death, people had pleaded in letters with the Nebraska Board of Pardons for his compassionate release. But it was said we Langa would only accept a finding of his innocence, which he maintained to his death. 

On Monday evening, at least a half-dozen people approached the Pardons Board — Gov. Pete Ricketts, Secretary of State Bob Evnen and Attorney General Doug Peterson — asking for commutation or compassionate release for Poindexter, who at age 75 is in failing health with a heart condition and diabetes.

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He has not applied for a pardon and was not on the agenda. They spoke during a public comment period. 

"Here we are in 2020 with all the calls for reform and change and the reality of aggravated policing and the anger and hurt in the African-American community," said Preston Love Jr. of Omaha. "Fifty years ago in 1970, we were in the same place."

He said he wasn't there to argue Poindexter's innocence or guilt, but to appeal on behalf of yesterday's and today's environment and to common sense, decency and humanity. 

A benevolent release would go a long way toward mending some of the racial divisions by saying "Ed Poindexter, enough is enough, and Godspeed."

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Love said he would be meeting with Poindexter's family and Omaha police to appeal to their humanity. There are also those trying to reach out to Minard's family, he said. 

Diane Topolski, an internal medicine doctor in Omaha, asked the board to commute Poindexter's sentence to time served. Because of recent events, she said, she has been educating herself about the history of systemic racism and learned the details of Poindexter's case. She believes he did not get a fair trial and was wrongly convicted. 

In 1995, the Nebraska Board of Parole recommended he eventually should be eligible for release, but the Pardons Board at the time denied commutation of his life sentence. 

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He has had excellent behavior in prison and many accomplishments, and he presents no threat to public safety, Topolski said. 

He cannot wait for a future hearing or lengthy deliberation, she said. But even if he dies in prison, people will continue to advocate for a new and fair trial, and he will eventually be exonerated, she said. 

Kietryn Zychal, a freelance journalist who has taken up Poindexter's cause, said he had a sea change when he went to prison, from being a Black Panther to being a conservative.

"He is an evangelist for personal responsibility," she told the board. 

He has dedicated his life to helping young men in prison so that they never come back, Zychal said. 

An inmate may be considered for medical parole by the Nebraska Board of Parole, but not if the inmate has a life sentence or a death sentence. 

Evnen and Ricketts thanked each person who spoke for coming forward. Peterson said on the way out the door he wouldn't comment on whether he would be open to a commutation or compassionate release, because it was the first he had heard of the proposal. 

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Ricketts said the process of commuting a sentence is more than the three of them getting together and deciding, but the conversations can continue. The Omaha Police Department and the family of the victim is a good place to start the conversation, he said. 

He was unaware that Poindexter had an application for commutation submitted to the board in 1983 and he will ask the staff to look into that, he said. 

Topolski said she believed Poindexter might have an application now at the prison, but with COVID-19 restrictions on visitors and with his visual impairment it is nearly impossible to communicate with him at this time. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature