Elian Gonzalez groupies continue to call the Easter weekend raid in Miami "another Waco." These people need a Texas-sized kick in the rear.
There is only one Waco. It is a travesty to compare the government's bloodless, three-minute retrieval of one little Cuban boy to the 51-day federal siege, capped by a fatal inferno, which claimed the lives of 21 innocent children and 59 adults on their native soil. If Beltway opportunists truly cared a whit about the government's lethal use of force against defenseless citizens, they would determine the truth - once and for all - about shots fired at Branch Davidians trapped during the Waco assault.
Instead, we have the pathetic spectacle of Senate Republicans weeble-wobbling over whether to conduct a full-blown investigation for the sake of a single child who isn't even an American citizen.
One man who might have shed light on the lingering question of gunfire at Waco was Carlos Ghigliotti. Mr. Ghigliotti ran a Maryland-based firm called Infrared Technologies Corp., which had done extensive work for the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Mr. Ghigliotti was, by all accounts, a respected expert in forward-looking infrared (FLIR imaging and analysis.
Last fall, after studying hundreds of hours of ground-view and over-head FLIR tapes of the Waco raid for the House Government Reform Committee, Mr. Ghigliotti concluded the FBI had fired shots in the direction of the Branch Davidian compound during the final assault on April 19, 1993. The findings echo those of another prominent thermal-imaging expert: Edward Allard, a former Defense Department physicist, who designed the FLIR equipment used by the FBI, and analyzed Waco footage for the groundbreaking documentary "Waco: the Rules of Engagement." Mr. Allard had concluded that flashes on the tapes could only be interpreted as blasts from automatic weapons shot into the building and possibly at people trying to escape the fire.
The FBI continues to deny categorically that any agent fired any shots that day. But now, Carlos Ghigliotti cannot tell the public about his follow-up research refuting the Government's claims.
Carlos Ghigliotti is dead.
The 42-year-old consultant's badly decomposed body was discovered last weekend at his lab in Laurel, Md., after a building manager - worried that Mr. Ghigliotti had not been seen in several weeks - contacted police. Police statements about Mr. Ghigliotti's death have evolved rather strangely. Initially, Officer Jim Collins told the press: "We're investigating it as homicide." A few days later, despite not having seen final toxicology and autopsy reports, Officer Collins stressed to me that "there is nothing to indicate foul play was involved."
Another spokesperson, Lt. Fred Carmen of the Laurel Police Department, said: "We are investigating it as an unintended death, that is, a deceased person with no immediate apparent cause of death."
Close followers of the Waco case are understandably suspicious. And why shouldn't they be? Law-enforcement officials have repeatedly lied, stonewalled and suppressed critical information on all aspects of the Waco case over the past seven years.
They lodged bogus charges of child abuse against Branch Davidians. They denied using incendiary devices during the raid - only to acknowledge having fired at least two flammable tear-gas canisters into the compound. They "misplaced" audio recordings from infrared footage that demonstrated official government orders to use pyrotechnics. They confiscated - then "lost" - vital autopsy evidence from the Tarrant County, Texas, coroner's office.
And now, they want us to believe that what Mr. Ghigliotti and Mr. Allard separately concluded were gunshots were merely flashes of sunlight and reflections of broken window glass. (This is the government's defense against a $100 million wrongful-death lawsuit arising from the Waco siege, which goes to trial next month.)
Curiously, the investigative House committee headed by Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, is not interested in immediately reviewing the work that Mr. Ghigliotti left behind. "As soon as we get all the necessary information, we will hold hearings and present the information to the American people," Mr. Burton said last fall. Still no hearings. Still no final answers.
How long will the real Waco take a back seat to the lesser outrages that have distracted the Attention Deficit Disorder-afflicted Congress?
WACO - A McLennan County jury has decided that neither the surviving followers of David Koresh nor the widow of another former Branch Davidian leader are legitimate trustees of the Branch Davidian church.
Jurors returned the verdict after about 2 1/2 hours of deliberations regarding the dispute over who should control the 77 acres east of Waco known as Mount Carmel.
The plaintiffs, including Clive Doyle, who survived the Branch Davidians' standoff with the federal government, brought the lawsuit in hopes of winning control of the land on which Mr. Koresh and about 80 of his followers died in 1993. Amo Bishop Roden, the widow of former Branch Davidian leader George Roden, also sought to manage the property.
During the trial, Thomas Drake, George Roden's former bodyguard, was dropped from the suit. Another party to the suit, Douglas Mitchell, who lived on the land in the early 1980s before Mr. Koresh became head of the church, was not considered by jurors because he didn't file a claim that he was a legal trustee of the church.
Mr. Mitchell was allowed to testify that neither Mr. Doyle's group nor Amo Roden is a true trustee of the church.
No one disputed that the Branch Davidian church actually owns the land. But they tried to convince jurors that their connections with the church should allow them to control the land.
After the verdict was announced late last week, the parties vowed to press on.
"I guess I'll go to the law library now to figure out what to do next," said Amo Roden. "I'm not gonna stop. I haven't taken my best shot yet."
Houston attorney Percy Isgitt, who represented Mr. Doyle's group, said he plans to file a motion asking state District Judge Alan Mayfield to clarify the verdict. He may also ask Judge Mayfield to disregard the verdict.
"You never know what a jury is going to do," Mr. Isgitt said. "Personally, I think this might be a little backlash off what happened [at Mount Carmel in April 1993]."
Mr. Doyle said the plaintiffs will continue their fight.
"We've got too much involved to quit," he said. "We'll leave it up to the lawyers to decide the next step."
A McLennan County jury is expected to decide today who the true trustees of the Branch Davidian church are - and who gets to control the 77 acres east of Waco known as Mount Carmel.
Testimony ended Thursday in the trial to determine who are the rightful trustees of the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association. Final arguments are set to begin at 9:30 a.m. today in Judge Alan Mayfield's 74th State District Courtroom.
A group of Davidians who were followers of David Koresh, led by Clive Doyle, are plaintiffs in the suit. Koresh and 75 of his followers died in a fire seven years ago at Mount Carmel.
Amo Bishop Roden, the widow of former Davidian leader George Roden, and Douglas Mitchell, who lived at Mount Carmel in the early 1980s before Koresh took control, are the other parties to the lawsuit.
A fourth party, Thomas Drake, who served as George Roden's bodyguard, was dismissed from the lawsuit Thursday by Mayfield because he failed to show his relevance to the dispute.
Whichever group is determined to be the rightful trustees will get control of the land.
Jurors heard testimony from several witnesses Thursday, including Amo Roden and Mitchell, each of whom are representing themselves.
Mayfield refused to allow Amo Roden to enter several pieces of correspondence as exhibits because he felt the information contained in them was hearsay.
During rambling testimony that lasted more than an hour, Mitchell smiled several times and cried twice.
His testimony drew so many objections by Houston attorney Percy Isgitt, who represents Doyle, that Mayfield threatened to have him held in contempt of court.
"It's water under the bridge," Isgitt said after the trial. "We'll give it to the jury and let them decide."
The federal government filed a motion Wednesday asking that those seeking to impound evidence in the wake of an infrared expert's death be required to follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Plaintiffs in the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by surviving Branch Davidians against the government asked U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. on Monday to order the seizure of evidence related to Carlos Ghigliotti's analysis of the infrared tape taken at Mount Carmel on April 19, 1993. That tape captured the fire that led to the deaths of David Koresh and 75 followers.
Ghigliotti reported last year that gunshots are visible on the infrared tape.
He had been employed by the House Committee on Government Reform. However, a committee source said he was dismissed.
Justice Department attorney Marie Hagen's motion stated that the government welcomed "reasonable attempts" to preserve evidence. However, Hagen argued that the plaintiffs have presented no legal grounds authorizing the court to intervene.
The government said the heirs of Ghigliotti's estate, as well as the Laurel (Md.) Police Department, which is investigating Ghigliotti's death, should be heard with respect to their interest in the materials that plaintiffs seek to preserve.
Despite drastic and sometimes violent changes in Branch Davidian leadership, a core group of church elders deserves clear title to the land known as Mount Carmel, according to testimony Wednesday.
Testimony in the lawsuit over who deserves to control the 77 acres east of Waco where David Koresh and 75 of his followers died seven years ago should conclude today in Waco's 74th State District Court.
A group of Koresh followers led by Clive Doyle are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
They are asking jurors to declare them the rightful trustees of the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association.
"There have been changes in beliefs over the years, changes in mode of operation, changes in presidents and changes in executive council members," Doyle told the jury. "But the same leadership of the church that existed under Ben Roden basically existed under Lois Roden and David Koresh, and they are the plaintiffs in this case."
Also claiming the land are Amo Bishop Roden, who has said she was married "by contract" to former Branch Davidian leader George Roden; Thomas Drake, George Roden's former bodyguard; and Douglas Mitchell, who lived at Mount Carmel in the early 80s before Koresh took control.
Percy Isgitt, a Houston attorney who represents Doyle's group, has urged jurors to dismiss claims arising from the defendants' association with George Roden. Isgitt told jurors that the group headed by Roden's mother, Lois, won a permanent injunction against George Roden in 1979 that barred him from the land and from acting as a church officer.
Doyle survived the April 19, 1993, fire at Mount Carmel and was one of four sect members acquitted of all criminal counts after a 1994 trial in San Antonio.
The charges were that the group killed federal agents who had come to arrest Koresh on Feb. 28, 1993.
Judge Alan Mayfield has been cautious during the two-day trial to steer the parties away from delving into the religious beliefs of the Branch Davidians and the various splinter groups that have sprung up around them.
Mitchell asked Doyle on Wednesday morning if his group has not appointed a new president since 1993 because they are waiting for Koresh's resurrection.
That brought an immediate objection from Isgitt, who asked again that the focus of the trial remain on the real estate dispute.
Mayfield reminded the jury of his previous instructions that religion would not be part of the trial. He instructed jurors that they could not consider a person's religious beliefs in evaluating his credibility as a witness.
Isgitt introduced into evidence sworn statements from 79 Branch Davidians around the world who asked the court or the jury to determine that the Koresh followers are the proper trustees over the property.
In other testimony Wednesday, Charles Pace, who said he has been a Branch Davidian since 1973, testified that he dropped his claim to the land two years ago because he thinks the matter should be decided within the church.
Pace, who was called as a witness by Amo Roden, said he is now the leader of a small group called "the Branch, the Lord of Righteousness" and lives in a trailer at Mount Carmel. He said he co-exists peacefully with Doyle's group and has helped renovate a dairy barn at Mount Carmel. The group uses it as a meeting place, he said.
"I withdrew from the suit because I see it as a spiritual matter to be determined by church membership," Pace said. "I told them that to fight it out in court would only turn the whole thing into a fiasco, which is what happened." Under cross-examination from Isgitt, Pace said that Amo Roden, Mitchell and Drake have never been Branch Davidian trustees, and have never been on the church council.
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors
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