WACO - An FBI agent who served as a tank gunner in the final deadly siege on Mount Carmel testified Wednesday that he fired three pyrotechnic tear gas rounds at the complex before it was engulfed by flames.
Agent David Corderman said that, early on April 19, 1993, he shot the rounds at a tornado shelter under construction on the northwest side of the grounds.
The first of the rounds "hit the top of the underground structure, skipped off and burned in a field," Corderman told the court.
As a cloud of white smoke created by the 40mm projectile drifted away, his tank crew received reports that FBI agents at the back of Mount Carmel "were complaining that they were being gassed," he said.
Corderman told the court he and his crew then drove closer to the tornado shelter and he fired two more military rounds, which bounced into crevices at the side of x the underground structure.
The FBI's admission last summer that Corderman had used pyrotechnic or military tear gas rounds on April 19 led U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a special counsel to investigate the events. The FBI had previously denied using the rounds.
Special counsel John Danforth, a former U.S. senator from Missouri, is still examining the evidence.
Corderman testified as the government moved closer to wrapping up its defense in the Davidian wrongful death case. Survivors and relatives of 74 Branch Davidians who died April 19 claim the government should be held at least partially responsible for the deaths and pay damages.
Corderman told the five-member jury that his tank carried more than 100 nonpyrotechnic tear gas rounds, as well as some two dozen military rounds, both suitable for firing from an M-79 grenade launcher. But he said he fired only the three pyrotechnic rounds.
Chief plaintiffs attorney Michael Caddell questioned Corderman about the presence of white smoke at one of the points where fire was sighted later in the day, only seconds after Corderman fired his final tear gas rounds.
"That was white smoke from fire," Corderman said.
Plaintiffs lawyers have argued that the smoke may have been produced by a pyrotechnic tear gas round.
Corderman was followed on the stand by agent R.J. Craig, a crewman in one of the Combat Engineering Vehicles, or CEVs, used in the tear gas assault on Mount Carmel.
Craig said that after driving his CEV, a modified tank, into one of three openings that he created on the front side of Mount Carmel, he backed away because he noticed the vehicle's turret was destroying the building's roof.
"I didn't feel confident bringing the whole roof down on top of me, knowing that that was a living quarters and not knowing where the people were," he said.
He then described how, on a half-dozen entries to an opening bashed out of the Mount Carmel entrance, he "back-dragged" debris from the building.
Among the debris, he said, was one of the twin front doors. He told the court that he had "no idea" what had become of the other door, whose whereabouts has long been a staple of the Waco controversy.
In one of his entries, Craig said, he found himself facing a wall that was lined "floor to ceiling" with cans of tuna.
"Did you knock any of those cans of tuna down?" government attorney Matt Zabel asked, with an entirely straight face.
Craig said he didn't topple the tuna.
The reference to fish was a part of the government's attempt to show that Craig had not breached any interior walls of Mount Carmel, nor reached the concrete building at the base of the building's central tower, where women and children were huddled.
"I believed that I never reached the base of the tower," Craig said. "I failed in my mission to get gas to the tower."
Several women and children in the room were killed, autopsy reports show, by falling blocks of concrete. Advocates for the Davidians have long claimed that Craig's CEV struck the room, causing the shower of concrete.
Lead plaintiff's attorney Caddell questioned Craig about the tank's dimensions.
The FBI driver said that on its deepest entry, the CEV penetrated about 20 feet into Mount Carmel.
Caddell showed Craig and the jury government exhibits of Mount Carmel's floor plan, showing that the tank would have encountered an internal wall about nine feet inside the building.
Late Wednesday afternoon, the government called James Quintere, a Maryland expert who prepared a report on the Mount Carmel fire in 1993.
According to his calculations, three fires developed inside Mount Carmel between 12:07 and 12:10 p.m. April 19.
The timing of the fires, he said, was "highly unusual for anything accidental."
"It's very indicative of some coordination of activities within the compound," he charged.
Government attorneys are expected to rest their case this morning.
WACO, Texas - The FBI agent who knocked down part of the Branch Davidians' gymnasium with his converted tank testified Tuesday that he had not intended to demolish the building but was trying only to clear a path to insert tear gas.
The testimony of the agent, Gary Harris, contradicts a central claim made by the Branch Davidians in their wrongful death suit against the government - that impatient FBI commanders departed from plans and prematurely began demolishing the complex during the 1993 siege.
Mike Caddell, the main lawyer for the Branch Davidians, pointed out on cross-examination that Harris had conceded during a pretrial deposition that he had effectively destroyed the gym.
The five-person jury watched an infrared tape of the last 50 minutes of the siege, while Harris explained the movements of his converted tank.
Harris said that the head of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, Dick Rogers, ordered him to make a pathway so that another converted tank, equipped with tear gas equipment, could insert gas at the base of a tower near the middle of the complex. The FBI thought many Davidians had escaped the tear gas in that part of the building.
"My job was to create a path. I was not trying to destroy that part of the building. We didn't want to recklessly move through the place. We were trying to be cautious in our movements. It wasn't a haphazard rush to crash or bash things."
Harris said he couldn't drive between the gym and a swimming pool for fear that the edge of the pool would collapse under his 60-ton vehicle and he could "end up in that pool upside down."
His job also was complicated because the gym was crammed with furniture from floor to ceiling. After knocking into one end of the gym several times, the corner of the roof began to come down. "That was not my intention to bring the roof down because I can't see in there," Harris said.
Harris said he got near the back of the gym and thought he saw the tops of storage drums, which indicated to him that there was a drop-off he could not negotiate. Then he probed other parts of the gym, knocking down most of it.
Caddell pointed out that there was no drop-off impeding his way to the tower. But Harris said he did not have the luxury of an overhead view.
The last several days of the four-week trial have not gone well for Caddell. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith denied Caddell's objection to playing tapes of the Davidians talking about starting the fire that killed most of the 80 victims. On Tuesday, Caddell attempted to block testimony by government experts about the fire. Smith curtly turned him down, leaving Caddell shaking his head.
The government presented a chemist's testimony that he found flammable liquids like Coleman fuel and charcoal lighter fluid on the shoes and clothes of some Davidians.
In other testimony, a government medical expert testified that he prepared a costly medical contingency plan to provide emergency medical care for all of the Branch Davidians. The plan included making arrangements with local fire departments, he said.
Under cross-examination, the medical expert, Dr. John Henry Hagmann, acknowledged that the fire plans were not updated for the final government raid on the compound on April 19, 1993. The Davidians claim the government was negligent in not having fire vehicles ready to fight a fire.
WACO The tank that ripped down the rear of the Branch Davidian compound wasn't trying to demolish the building but was trying to clear a path to get tear gas into the sect's hiding place, an FBI agent testified Tuesday.
"We didn't want to just recklessly move through the place," said agent Gary Harris, who drove the 60-ton vehicle on the last day of the 1993 Davidian siege near Waco. "It wasn't a haphazard, just run up and smash and crash things. That's not the reason I was back there in my mind, and that's not the orders I was given."
The agent also disputed as "totally inaccurate" an internal FBI document that called his action a "mission of slowly and methodically beginning the dismantling" of the embattled building.
Plaintiffs' lawyers have tried to convince jurors that the document proves that the bureau's two top Waco commanders, Jeffrey Jamar and Richard Rogers, violated the Washington-approved plan to tear gas the compound at least 48 hours before starting its demolition.
Their $675 million lawsuit alleges that damage created by Mr. Harris' tank and another sent into the front of the building helped to cause or spread fires that consumed the compound April 19, 1993. More than 80 Davidians died during the fire, which was spotted within 30 minutes after the FBI's tanks smashed deep into the compound's front and rear.
But government lawyers have countered that Davidians deliberately set the fires on orders of their self-proclaimed messiah, David Koresh. Late Monday, they had jurors don headsets to hear nearly an hour of intercepted conversations in which compound occupants talked of spreading fuel and lighting fires in the hours before the fire.
The government called an Arlington chemist Tuesday afternoon to detail his discovery of residue from five different types of flammable substances in the compound's scorched remains, surrounding dirt and on the clothing of some fire survivors. Dr. Andrew T. Armstrong, who ran chemical tests for the government's 1993 fire investigation, said the chemicals were "consistent with" Coleman camp stove fuel, two types of charcoal lighter fluid, gasoline, diesel and kerosene.
Dr. Armstrong said he particularly was surprised that three survivors' clothes tested positive for a "highly volatile mixture" that "had every characteristic of camp stove fuel."
Because that fuel burns completely when lit, evaporates quickly when poured and leaves "little or no residue that you can see," Dr. Armstrong told jurors, "If you wanted the accelerant of choice, that would be right up there at the top, because it is so difficult to recover after a fire."
A Texas Ranger testified last week that one of the survivors, Clive Doyle, told him days after the blaze that Coleman fuel had been spread throughout the building April 19 and that Davidians had touched off the fire. Mr. Doyle denied making any statement to the Ranger, and told jurors that he might have gotten gas on his coat while refilling the compound's lanterns. He was badly burned in the fire.
Mr. Doyle was acquitted of all charges in a 1994 criminal case arising from the siege, and neither he nor any other fire survivors ever has been charged with setting the blaze.
Another fire survivor, Derek Lovelock, had the same accelerant on one shoe and two articles of clothing.
Government lawyers' began Tuesday's proceedings by reading excerpts from a February deposition in which Mr. Lovelock repeatedly refused to give recorded voice samples repeating phrases captured by FBI bugs in the hours before the compound burned.
The British subject cited his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination when a government lawyer asked him to repeat nine different phrases about fuel.
Plaintiff's lawyers had tried to convince U.S. District Judge Walter Smith that Mr. Lovelock was unfairly "ambushed" with the request, noting that none of the voices captured on the tape spoke with British accents as he does. But Judge Smith refubbed them, telling jurors that they could "make a negative inference that Mr. Lovelock did utter the words that he was asked to repeat."
Under cross-examination, Dr. Armstrong conceded that the same chemical mixture found in camp stove fuel often is used as a solvent for glue in shoe soles. He also acknowledged that more than 40 samples sent to his lab turned up no evidence of any accelerants, including more than a dozen articles of clothing.
One of the samples that tested negative for accelerants was a blackened, broken broomstick topped with a wad of cloth an item that Texas Rangers described as "a torch." Earlier Tuesday, Plaintiff's lawyer Michael Caddell tried to shake the testimony of Mr. Harris, the FBI agent who drove into the rear of the compound just before it burned.
Mr. Harris conceded that he and other members of the FBI's hostage rescue team expected sect members to surrender within an hour after they started ramming their compound with tanks and spraying tear gas.
Even though the written plan approved in Washington called for gassing the building for 48 hours, Mr. Harris acknowledged Tuesday that he and other agents weren't told of any plans to rotate them in and out of the tanks if the operation took that long.
"What would you do after your 12-hour shift?" Mr. Caddell asked. "I have no idea," the agent responded. "That's just not at my level."
Under cross-examination, he conceded that he was not threatened by gunfire from the compound in his armored vehicle. He also said he never heard gunshots that morning, even when another tank he drove early in the operation was sent to bash upper stories of the building and spray tear gas.
Mr. Harris testified that he knew nothing about the document describing his actions just before the fire as "a dismantling mission."
The document, nominating Mr. Harris and his tank partner for a special FBI award, bears initials of the two on-site commanders and was sent to Washington from Mr. Jamar's San Antonio office. Later versions excluded all mention of a dismantling mission. The two commanders have said that they do not know who prepared the original.
Mr. Harris said that he got his order to drive through the back of the building from Mr. Rogers, the FBI's hostage rescue team commander. He added that Mr. Rogers directed him April 19 to probe the rear of the compound to try to find a pathway so that another tank equipped with a tear gas sprayer could get close enough to inject gas near the compound's tower.
But as jurors watched aerial footage of Mr. Harris' tank backing slowly in and out of the building, Mr. Caddell noted that he never got within 20 feet of the tower.
Just after the siege, officials said they wanted to get gas into a concrete-walled room at the base of the tower because government bugging devices had intercepted indications that many of the sect members had taken refuge there.
Mr. Harris said Tuesday he did not make it to the tower because he and his partner in the tank spotted tops of 55-gallon drums just beyond the gym's back wall and did not go further for fear that the area might be a dropoff.
He also told jurors that he did not intend to collapse the gym's roof and two of its outer walls. He said he was forced to, however, when he got the tank inside the building and saw it was packed floor to ceiling with furniture, beds and junk. "I'm trying to find a way to push some of this debris out of the way," he said as footage of his tank's movements was played. "We were trying to make the best decision we could. ...We didn't want to just recklessly move through the place."
After Tuesday's proceedings, lawyers for the government said they would not call Mr. Rogers and Mr. Jamar as witnesses.
They said they expect to conclude their case by late Wednesday or early Thursday.
An FBI agent denied Tuesday that he was trying to demolish the gymnasium at Mount Carmel seven years ago when he repeatedly drove a tank through it.
Gary Harris told U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. and the advisory jury hearing the Branch Davidians' $675 million wrongful-death lawsuit against the government that he was trying to create a "driveway" so a second tank equipped to deliver tear gas could reach the so-called bunker area.
It wasnt a haphazard, just run up and smash and crash things, Harris told government co-counsel Michael Bradford.
Tearing down the gymnasium was not his mission, Harris testified.
"My job was to create a path," he said. "I was not trying to destroy that part of the building or to crash the roof."
The plaintiffs allege that FBI commanders prematurely began disassembling Mount Carmel to force the Davidians out. However, Harris said he drove through the gymnasium rather than try to skirt the Davidians' outdoor pool with a 60-ton tank.
"We didn't want to end up in that pool upside down or even worse," said Harris, now head of the SWAT team for the FBI's Atlanta field office.
Bradford asked if that would have resulted in the crew drowning.
"Pretty much," Harris said.
The FBI's infrared (FLIR) videotape from April 19, 1993 showed the combat engineering vehicle driven by Harris seesawing through the Davidians' gymnasium shortly after 11 a.m. Harris testified that the FBI wanted to put tear gas into the base of the tower at Mount Carmel. It was believed Koresh had gone to the bunker there to escape the tear gas.
However, Harris said he soon realized that reaching the tower via the gymnasium wouldn't be easy.
"I could tell it would not be as simple as putting a hole in the wall," Harris said.
He said the gymnasium was used as a storage area and was full of "junk" that hampered the CEV's efforts.
Mike Caddell, lead plaintiffs attorney, pressed Harris on whether the CEV penetrated the back of the gymnasium. The FBI's FLIR tape at one point shows materials blown out the back of the gymnasium into the courtyard adjoining the tower.
"I don't believe the CEV was at the back of the wall," Harris said. "That pile of debris I was pushing had knocked the wall out," Harris said.
He added that he didn't plow through the debris and into the courtyard out of caution.
"When we made the penetration, one of the things we thought we saw was a drop-off," Harris said.
Harris said he didn't have a intelligence report telling him there was no drop-off in the courtyard, so he tried to find another path through the gymnasium. Eventually half the gymnasium collapsed as well as a walkway just under the roof line called the dog run.
A portion of the FLIR later showed Harris' tank ramming the section of the gymnasium that had not collapsed. Harris said it was an accident.
"I've looked at this many times," Harris said. "I actually believe I was trying to turn around and ran into the building."
Caddell noted that the FBI's operation plan on April 19 called for ripping through the outer walls of Mount Carmel if inserting tear gas for 48 hours failed to dislodge the Davidians. Then he asked Harris if there would have been any of the gymnasium left to demolish if the Davidians had stayed inside for two more days.
"I don't think you can make that determination," Harris said.
Harris told Caddell that he wasn't aware of any rotation plan for the Hostage Rescue Team despite its launching upon a tactical operation scheduled to last 48 hours.
"Were you told you'd be in a tank for 48 hours?" Caddell asked.
"No, we were not told about a shift change," Harris said. "We were told in 48 hours we would peel the walls back so hopefully the people inside would come out."
The government won an opening courtroom battle Tuesday when Smith allowed it to read the portions of Derek Lovelock's deposition where he invoked the Fifth Amendment rather than repeat phrases like "Pour the fuel" and "Light the fire." They were among the phrases picked up on audio surveillance bugs inside Mount Carmel on the day of the fire.
Lovelock was one of nine Branch Davidians to survive the fire that led to the deaths of David Koresh and 75 followers.
Smith told members of the advisory jury that they could draw a "negative inference" from Lovelock's refusal to say the phrases into a tape recorder. However, Smith also reminded the jury that Lovelock had not been charged with a crime in connection with the fire at Mount Carmel.
Forensic chemist Andrew Armstrong of Arlington, Texas testified that clothing samples from Davidian survivors as well as soil samples from the burned compound tested positive for gasoline, kerosene, charcoal lighter fuel and camp stove fuel.
Armstrong worked with the fire investigation team that determined the fire was intentionally set and accelerants were used to speed the flames.
Caddell contested his testimony, pointing out that some shoes and clothing contain petroleum products. He also rattled off a list of items from Mount Carmel examined by Armstrong - delivered to his laboratory in sealed cans - that showed no traces of combustible liquids.
Armstrong acknowledged he could not prove any of the Davidian survivors set Mount Carmel on fire.
"The only thing the chemist can say is what is in the can," Armstrong said.
"The chemist cannot identify the action of the person who is associated with the crime."
He also agreed that he could only state that the residue found on a piece of clothing was from a certain family of fuels, which might range from camp stove fuel to paint thinner.
"I cannot say it is camp stove fuel," Armstrong said. "But it has the characteristics of camp stove fuel. ... It is the closest match."
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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