Robert “Bob” Manning, a former Jewish Defense League member, remains in prison after being denied parole Monday in Phoenix, Arizona. Convicted in the 1980 mail-bomb murder of Patricia Wilkerson, Manning has long been suspected by Arab-American activists in the Santa Ana slaying of Alex Odeh, who served as West Coast Regional Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Back on October 11, 1985, Odeh opened the door to his ADC office when a pipe-bomb exploded, killing him.
The case is cold, but Manning's parole denial pleases both the ADC and Odeh's family (full disclosure: The ADC is giving me an award this weekend). “This is a welcomed and expected decision,” says Abed Ayoub, ADC National Legal and Policy Director. “This guy is a terrorist, a murderer, and doesn't deserve to be released.” Manning is being held at the Federal Correction Institution (FCI) in Phoenix, a medium-security prison. He'd been living in Israel when a rare extradition request brought him back to stand trial for the Wilkerson murder. The ADC hasn't been able to confirm it, but the civil rights organization believes the extradition agreement shields Manning from any potential prosecution in the Odeh assassination.
Manning's name first surfaced in connection with the terrorist attack that killed Odeh, a Palestine-American activist, through the intrepid reporting of late Village Voice journalist Robert Friedman. According to his 1988 expose, no sooner had the smoke cleared from the bomb blast that investigators zeroed in on three JDL members as suspects: Keith Fuchs, Andy Green and Manning, a former U.S. army munitions expert. But no charges have ever been filed against anyone for the Odeh murder in 31 years.
Before being denied parole on Monday, Manning has sought for several months to be transferred to Israel. The ADC learned of the request through an update from the U.S. Department of Justice, but hasn't been alerted to any decision made either way. The ADC and Odeh's family firmly oppose any such move amid concerns it could hamper the Odeh investigation, and possibly set Manning free. “He's probably going to be seen as a big shot over there, like he did something great,” says Helena Odeh, Alex's eldest daughter and ADC-OC board member. “He's going to be able to walk around free and plot his next mission.”
The FBI told the Weekly last year that it had indeed questioned Manning in regards to the Odeh murder. The investigation continues, with the FBI still offering $1 million in reward money for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Fuchs and Green have long since departed to Israel and are said to live in illegal settlements. “We know that the FBI is doing their best and using their best technology to get to the bottom of the case,” says Ayoub. “It's ongoing, and that's where we are now.”
Last year, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez pressed U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for an update and answers in the investigation, but received no response. Meanwhile, a quieter anniversary of Odeh's death passed a week ago than last year's 30th milestone. The Odeh family remains vigilant that there will be accountability before the next one.
“We're going to keep our hopes up that one day justice will be served,” says Odeh. “The ADC keeps my dad's memory alive. He's still making a difference even though he's not with us.”