WACO, Texas, (Reuters) - Opposing lawyers for Branch Davidians and the U.S.
government presented their final evidence on Thursday in a lawsuit charging the government with responsibility for the deaths of about 80 Davidians in 1993.
Closing arguments were scheduled for Friday in the $675 million lawsuit by surviving Davidians and relatives of those killed when the sect's central Texas compound burned down after a 51-day siege by the FBI.
The case will then go to a five-member advisory jury, a special feature of civil lawsuits against the federal government, but a final verdict from U.S.
District Judge Walter Smith may not come for several more weeks.
After three and a half weeks of testimony, lawyers for the Davidians wrapped up their case with a deposition from one of the top FBI officials at the scene acknowledging there was no plan in place for fighting a fire in the compound.
Plaintiffs attorney Michael Caddell read from a deposition taken earlier this year from Richard Rogers, who was commander of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) in 1993. Rogers has since retired.
``There was no plan to fight a fire should one develop in the Davidian compound,'' Rogers said in his deposition.
Flames erupted about six hours after the FBI began injecting tear gas into the compound from specially equipped tanks that also punched holes in the walls of the sprawling complex.
The Davidians accuse the FBI of causing the fire with the tank assault. They also say the FBI's on-scene commanders violated orders from U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno by not having fire trucks on hand.
The government has argued suicidal Davidians torched the building and that fire trucks could not be used because of the danger of gunfire from sect members.
In response to Rogers' statements about the lack of fire equipment, U.S.
Attorney Michael Bradford read from another portion of the deposition in which Rogers said the FBI had asked the U.S. Department of Defense if any armored fire fighting equipment was available.
``There was no such thing,'' Rogers said.
Rogers said it was too dangerous to send in firefighters without armor because the Davidians had shot at U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents when they tried to arrest Davidian leader David Koresh on weapons charges, triggering the standoff.
Earlier, Bradford read to the jury from autopsy reports that showed 20 Branch Davidians, including Koresh, died from gunshot wounds rather than the fire and that one small child was fatally stabbed.
In turn, plaintiffs lawyer and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark read a detailed list of 17 victims who died of fire or smoke.
``Serenity Jones Koresh, 4, place of death Mount Carmel, location, the vault, cause of death inhalation of carbon monoxide and smoke... Sheila Martin, 15.
Place of death, Mount Carmel, location of death: The chapel. Cause of death, died during the fire due to smoke inhalation and global charring,'' Ramsey said.
WACO, Texas (AP) - The government finished its defense in a wrongful death case with emotional testimony from an FBI agent who had entered the burning Branch Davidian compound April 19, 1993, and struggled to pull a sect member to safety.
James McGee, a Hostage Rescue Team member, recalled how he watched Ruth Riddle jump from the second floor of the burning building and then walk back inside.
``I found her about 8 to 12 feet inside laying on the floor, laying face down,'' McGee said Thursday. ``She was resistant and said, 'No, leave me alone.'''
McGee said Riddle did not respond when he asked where the children were.
``If she had told me, I would have gone after the children or died trying,'' said McGee, who received a Medal of Valor for his actions.
Closing arguments were scheduled for Friday morning, and the jury was expected to get the case soon afterward.
Survivors and relatives of the more than 80 Davidians who died in the raid and fire are suing the government for $675 million.
Government lawyers also presented autopsy findings Thursday that they said were further proof that cult members were suicidal and started the fires that burned the compound to the ground.
The attorneys read the results of 21 autopsies on adults, children and one infant, some still unidentified, whose remains were recovered after the complex was engulfed in flames. Twenty died of gunshot wounds. One toddler died of a stab wound to the chest.
Cult survivors and relatives say the members were not suicidal and that the government shares responsibility for the deaths on the final day of a 51-day standoff.
Among other things, the plaintiffs have argued that FBI tanks caused or contributed to some of the three fires that swept the building.
On Wednesday, government fire expert James Quintiere testified that the three fires that eventually enveloped the compound all began within a two-minute span and were probably set by cult members.
Last August, the FBI acknowledged firing a ``very limited number'' of pyrotechnic rounds during the operation, after years of publicly denying that any potentially incendiary devices were used.
A five-member jury is acting as an advisory panel to U.S. District Judge Walter Smith, who will deliver a verdict in the case.
WACO -- The government rested its case Thursday with the poignant account of an FBI agent who tried but failed to save a woman from the burning Branch Davidian compound.
Agent James McGee took several pauses to compose himself as he recounted how he tried to save Ruth Ottman Riddle. Riddle jumped from the burning Mount Carmel compound the afternoon of April 19, 1993, but then went back into the flames rather than surrender to federal authorities, McGee said.
McGee said he repeatedly asked Riddle, "Where are the children? She turned her head away from me," refusing to answer, he said.
"If she had told me, I would have gone after them or died trying," he said.
Twenty-five children were among the 80 Davidians who died that day with Davidian leader David Koresh. Twenty of the victims had been shot to death; one child was fatally stabbed.
More than 100 Davidians and relatives filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. government seeking $675 million. The jury of three women and two men who are acting as advisers to U.S. District Judge Walter Smith will hear closing arguments in the case this morning. Smith limited the arguments to 90 minutes a side.
It may be several weeks before Smith renders a final verdict in the case, which began June 20. The judge said he intends to wait until he hears evidence on whether the FBI fired at the compound as it burned.
Smith will ask the jury to fill out a verdict form and advise him on five questions: · Did the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms use excessive force on Feb. 23, 1993, by firing on the compound without provocation or by firing indiscriminately? That was the day that four agents and six sect members were killed in the initial shootout, which began when agents arrived to search for illegal weapons.
· Was the FBI negligent in its use of tanks at the end of the standoff to penetrate the buildings in order to insert tear gas?
· Was it negligent by starting or contributing to the spread of the fire, or negligent by deciding to have no plan to fight a fire?
· Were the Branch Davidians negligent in resisting arrest when the siege began or in setting fire to the compound?
· And finally, if there was negligence, what percentage should be assigned to either the FBI or the Davidians?
Houston attorney Michael Caddell, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said Thursday that the questions posed by the judge signal that his mind is already made up against the sect.
Caddell said Smith's verdict form lumps the Davidians into one group so the conduct of individuals, including Koresh or others who may have promoted violence during the siege, can't be singled out.
Even if the jury sides with the Davidians, their verdict may have no impact on Smith's final ruling, Caddell said.
"That's unfortunate that after ... having a jury sit through four weeks of testimony, we're not going to ask the jury for their opinions concerning the individuals within Mount Carmel. That's something that most people would like to know," he said.
The plaintiffs contend that the government's agents may have caused some of the fires, or that they caused so much structural damage to the compound that they hindered escape and caused the buildings to collapse on sect members -- most of whom were nonviolent.
There was evidence that none of the children, and only one woman had, fired on federal agents, and none was involved in deliberately setting fires when agents used armored vehicles to begin inserting tear gas, Caddell said.
The plaintiffs also argued that the government's plan to end the siege was flawed because it didn't arrange for firefighting equipment to be on hand when the tear gas was inserted.
But special assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford called the April 19 showdown a "suicidal event" brought on by Davidians' criminal acts and negligence.
Bradford said the agents were "just doing their jobs." Despite being shot at, they made saving the children their top priority, as ordered by Attorney General Janet Reno, he said.
WACO, Texas - A University of Maryland arson expert yesterday told jurors in the Branch Davidian wrongful-death trial that the fires that engulfed the sect's compound on April 19, 1993, were intentionally set.
James Quintere said the fires could not have been started accidentally by FBI-driven tanks that knocked holes in the walls while inserting tear gas to end a 51-day standoff between sect members and the government.
He said the fires were set in three distinct spots within the Davidian headquarters and appeared to have been enhanced by accelerants poured by the victims.
Earlier, two FBI agents testified that although three metal canisters of tear gas were fired in the direction of the compound that morning, all three were launched at an underground bunker at the complex. They struck the roof of the bunker and ricocheted into a nearby field where they burned out harmlessly, he said.
For the second straight day, government lawyers introduced tapes of Branch Davidians' comments in the final minutes of the debacle, picked up by FBI hidden recorders.
One of the main contentions of the Davidians in their $675 million civil suit is that the government caused the fires that killed sect leader David Koresh and 80 of his followers - either by accidentally knocking over lanterns as the tanks barreled through the rickety walls or by shooting in incendiary devices that triggered the blazes.
The plaintiffs fought hard to keep the tapes out of the trial, claiming that since most of the comments could not definitely be attributed to a known individual, the remarks were unfair to those who took no active part or did not comment about setting fires.
FBI agent David Corderman -one of the several tank drivers -said he had been extra careful that morning to make sure the three military rounds he fired did not go inside the main building.
"I was concerned," he said, "to make sure military rounds did not, in any way, go near the above-ground structure." The defense filed a motion Tuesday afternoon offering to present testimony that proved the Davidians resisted arrest during the original raid and had not been hindered from escaping the compound at several junctures during the siege.
Mike Caddell, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, said the Branch Davidians had been too intimidated by the government's bold tank assault and the noise-making equipment to come out to safety. He compared the tear-gas assault, intended to force members of the sect outside, as similar to a tube of toothpaste: "Squeeze it and you get people coming out the end. But people don't act that way." The tapes jurors heard yesterday had the Branch Davidians - those speaking at least - sounding anything but scared.
"You always wanted to be a charcoal briquette," laughed one man. "You . .. . your philosophy. That's your philosophy," said another. Then a third voice: "It's God's will. The Assyrian is out there. They can't destroy us unless it's God's will that they do." Then: "Have you read Isaiah 13, where it says he's going to take us up like flames of fire?" Government lawyers said late yesterday they would probably close their presentation by midday today.
In a rather rare situation according to several Texas lawyers, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith is not bound by the jury's verdict in that he informed them ahead of time that they would be serving only in an "advisory" capacity.
WACO, Texas - An expert testified Wednesday that the high heat and speed of the fire at the Branch Davidian complex suggested that the fire had been set intentionally by people inside the buildings.
The expert was James G. Quintiere, a professor of fire protection engineering at the University of Maryland. He said three or four fires started within two minutes, just after noon April 19, 1993.
The fires reached "flashover" within two more minutes, he said. Flashover is the point when a fire jumps to a much hotter level.
Quintiere said these characteristics ruled out the possibility that the fire had been caused accidentally by government tear gas knocking over a lantern.
The first fire, which broke out in a second-story bedroom, probably was caused by two gallons of a flammable liquid, he said. The second fire, in the dining room on the opposite side of the complex, would have required about five gallons of fuel.
Quintiere testified as the government approached the end of its defense against allegations in the Branch Davidians' wrongful death suit, which blames the government for the deaths of about 80 Davidians in the fire. The trial is in its fourth week and could go to a jury by week's end.
Earlier in the day, FBI agents testified they were certain that no military style tear gas was fired at the complex. The Davidians suggest that military gas rounds - which can cause a fire - were shot into the complex.
FBI agent David Corderman testified that he had 20 of the military rounds in his Bradley Fighting Vehicle, more than the 10 rounds the government had previously acknowledged.
He said he used only three of them early on the final day of the siege.
He said he obtained permission to fire the rounds at a tornado shelter about 25 yards from the building. The idea was to keep the Davidians from escaping the building by entering an underground bus buried outside. All three military rounds bounced off the shelter and burned out in a nearby field.
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. asked questions of Corderman that stressed - possibly for the benefit of the advisory jury - that the military tear gas had been fired four hours before the fatal fire.
Corderman also testified that he fired three standard tear gas rounds into the dining room door just before noticing smoke come out of that area. He said he was certain that he had not used any of the 20 military style rounds that were in his Bradley Fighting Vehicle. No military gas canisters were found in the fire rubble.
Under cross-examination, Corderman acknowledged that the smoke he saw coming from the dining room was white, not black.
The Davidians have stressed that point to counter government claims that Davidians had started the fire in the dining room with Coleman fuel, which would have caused black smoke.
R.J. Craig, an FBI agent who drove one of two converted tanks, backed up the earlier testimony of the other tank driver that the FBI was not trying to demolish the building. Craig said he was trying to push far enough into the building to deliver tear gas to an interior room where Davidians had escaped earlier tear gas.
Craig said that he could not get far enough into the building because the top of the tank hit the roof of the building near an inhabited section of the second floor.
"I didn't feel comfortable bringing the whole building all down on top of me, knowing that there were living quarters," he said.
WACO An FBI agent acknowledged Wednesday that he fired three pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds on the final day of the Branch Davidian siege but said they didn't go into the sect's building and were fired hours before it burned.
Agent David Corderman denied sending any of the gas devices into the sect's kitchen, insisting that the three rounds he shot into that area of the building just after noon were all nonburning, plastic "ferret" gas grenades.
He and other agents involved in an April 19, 1993, tear-gas assault on the compound have testified in the Branch Davidian wrongful-death trial that they saw white smoke wafting out of the kitchen area just after those rounds were fired. Agent Corderman acknowledged Wednesday that pyrotechnic gas rounds expel white smoke when fired, but he said the smoke he saw in the kitchen was "white smoke from a fire."
A government fire expert also testified Wednesday that such devices were "very unlikely" to have started any of the three fires that leveled the Davidian compound with more than 80 sect members inside on April 19.
University of Maryland engineering professor James Quintiere told jurors in the wrongful-death trial that the outbreak of three separate blazes around the building within a two-minute period "was highly unusual for anything accidental. ... It's very indicative of some coordination of activities within the compound."
He added that their rapid spread "was only consistent with accelerated fires, and I believe, the use of flammable liquids."
Government lawyers offered his testimony as they began wrapping up their defense of the $675 million wrongful-death case.
The lawsuit alleges that government tanks used to insert tear gas into the building could have touched off or helped spread the April 19 fire. It also alleges that FBI commanders in Waco, Jeffrey Jamar and Richard Rogers, violated Washington-approved plans for the assault when they ordered the tanks to drive deep into the compound and start demolishing its rear gymnasium.
But the government's defense team has tried to convince jurors that sect members deliberately torched their home in a mass suicide ordered by their self-proclaimed messiah, David Koresh. Much of the week's testimony has focused on FBI agents involved in the tear-gas assault who recounted watching compound occupants appearing to spread something or make motions consistent with lighting fires just before the compound burned.
Lawyers for the sect have challenged those accounts, pointing out that they were not supported by photos and videos shot just before the fire or documented in the minute-by-minute FBI logs used to record what agents saw, heard and did in Waco on April 19.
In one case, they noted, an agent was more than a half-mile away and equipped only with hand-held binoculars when he said that he saw someone who appeared to be lighting a fire.
Their fire expert testified earlier in the case that Dr. Quintiere's analysis of the fire was scientifically invalid and the entire government fire investigation was too flawed to reach any acceptable conclusion about what started the compound blaze.
The plaintiffs' expert tried to suggest that tanks bashing holes and driving deep into the building could have started the fire by knocking over Coleman lanterns and kerosene lamps being used to light the building. He said tanks also could have crushed propane tanks, causing gas leaks that could have been ignited by burning tear-gas rounds or other government actions.
On Wednesday, Dr. Quintiere dismissed those scenarios. He said Coleman lanterns hold only a pint of fuel and burn gas through fragile wicks that break and extinguish easily when knocked over. He also noted that a fire fueled by a propane leak would have been immediately obvious because it would have been characterized by a dramatic and instantaneous gas ignition.
He said a fire caused by a crushed or tipped lantern would also have shown up immediately on the forward-looking infrared or FLIR video taken from an FBI airplane on April 19. The infrared camera used by the FBI records a video image by sensing minute differences in temperatures of objects.
He showed jurors excerpts from that video, including flashes of light in three separate areas that he said were ignition points for each of the three fires that burned the building.
"If a lantern had been knocked over, it would have been seen on the FLIR," Dr. Quintiere said. "Instead, we saw nothing, nothing, nothing."
Plaintiff's lawyer Michael Caddell questioned the engineer closely about how he could conclude anything about the ignition point and cause of fires using only a heat-sensing instrument such as an infrared video camera.
Dr. Quintiere's evaluation, initially prepared for the government's 1993 fire investigation but later used in a 1994 criminal trial, was based on his analysis of the infrared video, still photos and commercial TV footage of the April 19 fire.
Reviewing his conclusions about the first fire spotted on the FLIR a hot-spot in a second-story tower of the compound the lawyer noted that the engineer could not say precisely what was in that room.
"You don't know what started that fire, do you? You cannot identify the ignition point for the fire. You cannot identify the initial fuel for the fire," the lawyer said. "Can you identify the point of origin of the fire of that bedroom?"
"I believe it was in the vicinity of the first window," Dr. Quintiere responded, pointing out a white flash indicating heat on the infrared recording.
Under cross-examination, Dr. Quintiere remained adamant that all fires detected by the infrared camera developed too quickly to be accidental. He said the first fire in the upper tower could not have been caused by the actions of a tank because it came more than a minute and a half after a tank hit that area.
Earlier Wednesday, the agent who drove that tank on April 19 told jurors that he did not believe his penetrations into the building closed escape routes.
The agent, R.J. Craig, said his first assignment that morning was to ram a hole in a corner of the building with the tank's boom so that gas could be sprayed in to keep Branch Davidians from a trap door leading to an underground bus.
A Fort Worth pathologist who autopsied the Branch Davidian dead after the fire testified in a 1994 criminal trial that the tank blocked the trap door with debris. The pathologist testified that six women's bodies were found in the hallway near the trap door, and he said they appeared to have been trying to get through it when they were overcome by the fire.
Agent Craig said he was later sent to the front of the building to try to gas its central tower. He said he got that assignment after FBI commanders learned from eavesdropping devices that sect members might be taking shelter in a concrete room at the base of the tower.
He said he got near the room but never penetrated or gassed it. Despite driving the 56-ton tank at least 20 feet into the building, he said, he did not hit any interior walls or leave the front entrance and stairway impassable. He insisted that he never touched an inside wall, even after Mr. Caddell displayed FBI diagrams and descriptions by surviving sect members that showed interior walls within 10 feet of where his tank entered the building.
One Branch Davidian survivor whose testimony has been used extensively by government lawyers has described seeing the building's main hallway cut off completely by the tank.
Mr. Caddell also questioned Agent Corderman closely on his use of pyrotechnic gas rounds. FBI officials insisted for six years that no pyrotechnic gas was used on April 19, and Attorney General Janet Reno told Congress after the fire that she expressly banned anything capable of sparking fires in the gassing operation.
Federal officials were forced to admit that pyrotechnic rounds were fired in Waco after a former FBI official told The Dallas Morning News last fall that their use was "common knowledge" among members of the bureau's hostage-rescue team.
On Wednesday, Agent Corderman said he had "approximately 20" of the pyrotechnic or "military" gas rounds in his armored vehicle on April 19. He acknowledged that the FBI began running out of nonflammable gas within an hour after starting their assault, but he maintained that he only fired three rounds at an area adjoining the compound. He said all were aimed at a covered entrance leading to the underground bus and that all bounced off its roof.
He said he got approval to fire three of the rounds from Mr. Rogers, the hostage-rescue team commander. He added that Mr. Rogers had previously told him "the plan as I understand it was that military rounds were authorized, if we got permission to use those rounds."
At one point, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith questioned the agent. "What was the time frame in which you fired military gas rounds?" he asked.
"At approximately 8 o'clock in the morning," came the reply.
"Did you see any fire as a result of those three rounds?" the judge asked.
"No sir," the agent responded.
Both sides are expected to complete final arguments by Friday. The case will then go to a five-member advisory jury called by Judge Smith to help him decide whether the government should be deemed negligent.
Judge Smith has indicated that he will probably wait to resolve the remaining issue in the case, the allegations that government agents fired at the compound on April 19, before he issues a final ruling.
An FBI agent testified Wednesday that smoke could be seen moments after he fired a tear gas cannister into the back of Mount Carmel.
Testimony in the Branch Davidians' $675 million wrongful-death lawsuit against the government could wrap up today.
Agent Dave Corderman said he fired a ferret round into the dining room about noon on April 19, 1993. He insisted it did not help set the fire that destroyed Mount Carmel.
"I fired three rounds in succession, all within a minute," Corderman testified. "Upon the last round going in, I still had visual. I saw smoke coming from the black (or back) side of the cafeteria."
At that point, he turned to the others in his tank, Corderman said.
"I immediately said to the others in the Bradley, 'They're setting a fire. They're killing themselves,'" Corderman said.
He was sure the tear gas round didn't cause a fire because 15 seconds later he also saw a fire at the south end of Mount Carmel, Corderman testified.
James Quintiere, an engineering professor at the University of Maryland who studies fires, testified that he was also sure the FBI wasn't responsible for the fire in the dining room one of possibly four fires at Mount Carmel that linked.
Quintiere said the "growth rate" of the fires led him to conclude they could not have started from a tear gas round. They are more indicative of fires started by accelerants, he testified.
He also noted that three fires started within two minutes of each other.
"These are distinct and separate fires and as far as them being anything accidental, that would be highly, highly improbable," he said.
Houston attorney Mike Caddell, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, derided Quintiere's conclusion that the start of the fires was coordinated.
"How do the Davidians communicate from an upstairs bedroom to that dining room when Mr. (R.J.) Craig has driven his tank right through the middle of the only hallway that communicates through those two parts of the building?" Caddell asked later, during a brief press conference.
During his questioning of Corderman, Caddell asked what color smoke he saw coming from the dining room.
Earlier, Caddell had shown Corderman a photograph depicting the white smoke produced by the military tear gas rounds that Corderman fired at an underground tunnel outside Mount Carmel.
"It was white smoke from a fire," Corderman responded.
"Are you a fire expert?" Caddell asked.
"No, I'm not," Corderman said.
Corderman testified there were approximately 20 military tear gas rounds, which are pyrotechnic, in the tank in which he was riding. He said he fired three of them at the underground tunnels beyond the north end of Mount Carmel at about 8 a.m. on April 19.
"I was very concerned as we had discussed beforehand to make sure the military gas rounds did not go near the above-ground structure," Corderman said.
He sought permission to fire the military gas rounds because ferret tear gas rounds had already bounced off the plywood over the underground tunnels, Corderman testified.
The military tear gas rounds, which are metallic rather than plastic like a ferret round, also failed to penetrate the covering over the underground tunnel, Corderman testified, even after the Bradley Fighting Vehicle was repositioned in order to gain a better firing angle.
"Those two rounds also bounced off the structure and dissipated in an area next to the underground structure," he said.
Another FBI agent, R.J. Craig, backtracked Wednesday and testified that he may have demolished at least two interior walls near the front of Mount Carmel. He drove a tank through the building trying to insert tear gas at the base of the tower where the FBI believed many of the Davidians, including David Koresh, were hiding.
Craig first testified that he didn't hit any interior walls in his mission, which he said failed. He was not trying to demolish the building by plowing through it, Craig said.
His tank wasn't equipped to disassemble Mount Carmel, Craig said.
The FBI's disassembly plan which was to be implemented after 48 hours if the Davidians didn't leave the building called for a railroad tie, sticking out 12 inches on either side, to be attached to a combat engineering vehicle, Craig said. The tank was to run along the front of Mount Carmel, peeling away the sheathing and dry wall.
"Just like a kid running down a picket fence with a stick," Craig said, until the procedure "exposed the insides."
Caddell, however, showed Craig a government sketch of the dimensions of Mount Carmel. It showed two interior walls within 13 feet of the front of the building. Craig's tank was 26 feet long, according to testimony. At least three-quarters of it was inside the Davidian building at one point, Craig testified.
Craig conceded he would have had to go through two interior walls, "If that's accurate, yes."
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]
[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]