Slain Activist Alex Odeh’s Family Speaks at Ex-JDL Bomber’s Parole Hearing

Odeh: Man of Peace. Photo by Brian Feinzimer

For the first time since a pipe bomb exploded and killed Arab-American activist Alex Odeh on Oct. 11, 1985 in Santa Ana, a family member had the opportunity to address former Jewish Defense League member Robert “Bob” Manning. Extradited from Israel, a jury convicted Manning for the 1980 mail-bomb murder of Patricia Wilkerson, a Manhattan Beach secretary, But he never faced charges in the Odeh case that remains unsolved more than 33 years later.

“I grew up seeing all of my friends with their fathers, wishing I had my dad with me by my side,” Helena Odeh, Alex’s eldest daughter, testified on Monday. “I was never able to go to a father-daughter dance, he was not there to see us graduate, walk us down the aisle when we got married, or here to meet his grandchildren.  Manning stole from us irreplaceable memories but most importantly our time and relationship with our own dad.”

The Odeh family sought to address the parole board with a similar message two years ago in Phoenix, Arizona where Manning carries out his sentence. Without a legal connection to the Wilkerson case, they weren’t allowed to attend. Pamela Wilkerson, Patricia’s daughter, offered to speak about the Odeh case in their place. This time around, the United States Department of Justice, according to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), approved Helena’s request to testify recognizing her as well as ADC as victims of Manning’s actions, a surprising move given no announcements of any new developments in the cold case.

Alex Odeh served as the ADC’s West Coast Regional Director when he opened the door to his Santa Ana office that fateful morning in 1985. Though the authors of the terrorist attack remain unknown, a 1988 Village Voice exposé by the late intrepid reporter Robert Friedman noted law enforcement quickly honed in on three JDL members: Keith Fuchs, Andy Green and Manning.

Manning denied any knowledge of the Odeh bombing despite repeated efforts by the FBI to question him about it, according to court documents from his lawsuit against the Department of Justice filed shortly after being denied parole in 2016. He previously sought an inmate transfer back to Israel citing poor health. The request had been approved in 2015 before being revoked two weeks later. A federal judge in New York dismissed the suit last December.

Samer Khalaf, ADC’s current president, also had the opportunity to address the parole board this week, reiterating the civil rights group’s long-held position that Manning is culpable for Odeh’s murder. “At a time when we are witnessing a rise in hate-based crimes, we look to our judicial and court system to protect those at risk and are vulnerable,” Khalaf said. “Thirty-three years ago, Manning committed an act of terror that traumatized a community and a nation.”

Outside the parole hearing, Odeh’s memory lives on even as his case grows colder by the day. The Palestinian Youth Movement gathered outside Odeh’s statue in front of Santa Ana Public Library for an Oct. 21 vigil in remembrance of the slain activist. The ADC also hosted its national convention in Anaheim last month in conjunction with the annual Alex Odeh memorial banquet.

After hearing from Helena, Pamela and Khalaf, the parole board has yet to announce an official decision on Manning’s request to be released from prison. If denied, the convicted bomber can reapply in 2020. Helena, an ADC-OC board member, hopes to be able to return at that time, if need be.

“We deserve justice, our father deserves justice, and our community deserves justice,” she testified. “Our father was a man who stood up for civil rights, nonviolence, and peace.”

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