WACO - Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin told a jury Wednesday that he believes federal agents fired through a windowless, steel door at targets they couldn't see when they raided Mount Carmel the morning of Feb. 28, 1993.
DeGuerin was called to testify in the Davidian wrongful death suit by Cynthia Chapman, wife and law partner of Mike Caddell, the lead attorney for plaintiffs in the case.
Chapman called DeGuerin in an effort to show federal agents fired indiscriminately at Mount Carmel, endangering the lives of unarmed women and children.
During the 51-day federal siege in 1993, DeGuerin, with permission from FBI commanders, entered Mount Carmel four times.
Inside, he conferred with David Koresh, whom he represented as defense counsel. He also toured and inspected the building and spoke with other Davidians.
Federal attorneys objected to DeGuerin's attempts to say bullet holes he examined in one of Mount Carmel's twin front doors had been fired into the building from outside, not from inside going out, as government spokesmen always have maintained.
Their objection was that DeGuerin had not been qualified as a firearms expert. Judge Walter Smith, Jr., who is presiding over the trial, sustained the objection.
"But I was born in Texas! I've been a hunter all of my life," the Houston lawyer protested. In questioning by Chapman, DeGuerin slipped around the government's objections by saying he often had seen bullet holes in traffic signs near property he owns.
Smooth holes appear on the entry side, while holes with "jagged edges" appear on the exit side, he observed.
"The holes on the outside of that door at Mount Carmel were smooth," he said. "The holes that I recall examining on the inside of that door were jagged.
"DeGuerin also noted the door he examined never has been found. Its twin was introduced into evidence by prosecutors during the 1994 San Antonio criminal trial of Davidian defendants. That door showed evidence of gunshots fired from inside.
DeGuerin's testimony followed a morning that jurors spent listening to tapes of 911 calls in which three Mount Carmel figures spoke with Larry Lynch, then a McLennan County sheriff's lieutenant. The calls were made during and after the ATF raid of Feb. 28, when the standoff began.
The calls were initiated by Wayne Martin, a Harvard-trained Waco lawyer who lived at Mount Carmel and died there during the April 19 fire. His widow, Sheila, present in the courtroom, grimaced and bowed her head as some three hours of tapes were played.
"There are 75 men around our building, and they're shooting at us in Mount Carmel! ... Tell them that there are women and children in here and to call it off," Martin can be heard telling Lynch in their initial conversation.
Lynch had no phone contact with the ATF raiders. Chatting with Martin on the line, the lieutenant tried to buy time. But gunshots are heard on the recording, and at one point, Lynch told Martin, who was using a speakerphone, to lay down his weapon.
"I have a right to defend myself," Martin shouts. "They started firing first."
Jurors were rapt as they listened.
Portions of the 911 tapes were played during the 1994 Davidian criminal trial in San Antonio, but during that proceeding, Smith refused to allow a jury to hear Martin say: "They started firing first."
The statement was "self-serving," Smith said at the time.
After Lynch established contact with ATF commanders, Martin and Lynch arranged a cease-fire, despite the shouting and shots recorded on the tapes.
As the ATF began withdrawing, Lynch also spoke with Koresh and his aide, Steven Schneider. But the conversation with Koresh quickly bogged down when the wounded leader began expounding theology and Schneider was hostile and
Effective negotiation, crucial to the removal of severely wounded agents, fell to Martin, who talked with the lieutenant until late in the afternoon of Feb. 28.
Government attorneys played for the jury a separate sampling of tapes, which included the Lynch chat with Koresh and various sections of Lynch-Martin conversations during the minutes after the cease-fire was arranged.
Just before DeGuerin's testimony, trial jurors viewed a videotaped deposition by Anetta Richards, 71, a Jamaican native who is a resident of Canada.
Richards, a practical nurse, was visiting Mount Carmel at the time of the Feb. 28 raid.
She said she saw from her bedroom on the rear side of the building's second floor the approach of three helicopters.
When another resident told her to step clear of the window, Richards sat down on her bed, she told attorneys who questioned her for the deposition.
"Shortly after I sat down on my bed, a bullet came through the wall and just past my face," she testified.
Richards took refuge in the second-floor hallway, where, she testified, she shielded a 5-month-old child, Patron Wendell, with her body because "at that time bullets were coming in from the roof."
In a 1993 interview with Texas Rangers, and in testimony before Congress in 1995, DeGuerin said he had examined holes in Mount Carmel's roof, which he concluded had been made by bullets fired from the ATF's helicopters.
But Chapman failed to question DeGuerin about bullet holes in Mount Carmel's ceiling.
"I was wondering why she didn't ask me that," he said after leaving the witness stand.
WACO, TEXAS - A federal judge ruled Tuesday that FBI negotiators' warnings to their commanders against using tanks against Branch Davidians could not be brought up during the sect's wrongful death lawsuit in Waco.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr. ruled that the testimony was barred by federal law that allows discretion to federal officers to handle situations as they see fit. The ruling was a boost to government lawyers who wanted to keep the negotiators' statements out of the trial.
The negotiators had warned their commanders that the Davidians would react violently should the FBI send in tanks to gas the sect's members who were holed up in their complex in 1993. The negotiators also warned that the FBI would be blamed for how the siege ended, even if they agents were not at fault.
The commanders went ahead with a tear gas attack using converted tanks. About 80 members of the religious sect died from gunshots and the effects of a fire that destroyed the complex. The relatives of the victims and some of the survivors have sued the federal government claiming actions by federal agents contributed to the deaths.
"It (the judge's ruling) takes away some of our best evidence," said Jim Brannon, one of the lawyers for the Branch Davidian survivors. "We would have liked to see it go the other way.
Brannon represents the estates of three of the dead children of David Koresh, the sect's leader who died from a close-range gunshot wound as the complex burned down around him. The children died from the effects of the fire.
Mike Bradford, the U.S. attorney helping defend the government, welcomed the ruling. "How negotiations are discussed shouldn't be second-guessed by the court system," he said.
Both he and Mike Caddell, the plaintiffs' lead lawyer, suggested Caddell might try later to include some of the negotiators' statements.
The trial began Tuesday with the videotaped faces of 15 smiling children of the Branch Davidians greeting the six jurors. Caddell used video of the children as an emotional opening to his claim that the government didn't do enough to protect them during the final siege on April 19, 1993. All but one of the children died in the final assault. The video had been made inside the complex during the standoff that began with a raid by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents on Feb. 28.
After he introduced each child, Caddell put color photographs of each on a board for the jury to see. He said each "never owned a gun, never fired a gun, never broke the law, never hurt anyone."
FBI commanders exceeded orders, Davidians' lawyer says
Caddell said the Davidians' lawsuit was about truth and responsibility for their deaths. He said Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents had fired indiscriminately during the initial raid and that FBI agents may have contributed to the start of the fatal fire.
He said the FBI's on-scene commanders, Jeff Jamar and Dick Rogers, exceeded the orders approved by Attorney General Janet Reno. Caddell said that although the destruction of the complex was not authorized for 48 hours, Jamar and Rogers went ahead about five hours into the gas attack. Caddell said someone in the FBI's San Antonio office later wanted to give medals to the tank drivers for tearing down part of the gymnasium. The medals were not awarded.
Noting that the FBI fired 400 tear gas canisters into the complex, Caddell said it was possible that the FBI started two fires. An investigation has determined that three fires started almost simultaneously about six hours after the gas attack began.
The government has argued that the Davidians started all three fires in an apocalyptic suicidal end to the siege. Caddell acknowledged that the Davidians may have started one fire in the chapel "in the mistaken belief that fire would protect them."
"Once the fire began, it moved faster because of the destruction caused by the tanks," Caddell added. He said the FBI had no plan to fight the fire, although armored fire-fighting equipment had been offered to the FBI.
Bradford told the jury that what happened at Waco "was a tragedy that was terrible for all of us." But he said the blame rested with Koresh and the Davidians.
Bradford said the Davidians' Mount Carmel complex eight miles outside of Waco was "an armed encampment." He said Koresh had convinced his followers that he was a prophet who predicted the world would end in a violent confrontation with the government.
He said Koresh had once told his followers, "If you can't kill for God, you can't die for God." Koresh had so much influence over the Davidians, Bradford said, that he had convinced some of his male followers to allow him to have children with their wives.
"All women were married to him," Bradford said. "He was entitled to father children with women, including the underage daughters of the Davidians. Many of the children who died were David Koresh's children."
Bradford said ATF agents were attempting to serve lawful weapons search and arrest warrants for Koresh when they were caught in a Davidian ambush. Four agents and six Davidians were killed in the initial encounter. Bradford said the evidence would show that some Davidians were killed inside the complex by their own people.
During opening statements, lawyers made no mention of the claim that FBI agents fired at the complex during the final siege; Judge Smith has reserved considering that issue for himself.
Among the first witnesses Tuesday was Rita Riddle, one of the Davidians who left the complex during the siege. Her brother was killed; a sister-in-law was saved from the flames by an FBI agent.
Riddle said she was never a wife of Koresh but lived with the Branch Davidians because the Bible was studied there. She said she never heard discussion of a suicide pact among the church's members. She said that on Feb. 28, when the ATF raided the complex, she first heard gunfire coming from outside the building.
Jaunessa Wendel, 8 years old at the time of the initial attack, said she was with her mother, Jaydean, when the ATF raided.
"It was really wild," Jaunessa Wendel, now 16, said. "There was a lot of screaming." Her mother was shot and killed during the attack. After she was released from the complex, Wendel told a Texas Ranger that she had seen her mother with a gun. During her court appearance Tuesday, she said she could not remember that happening and that she had given her initial statement to appease the Ranger who was questioning her.
WACO Testimony in the Branch Davidian wrongful-death lawsuit opened Tuesday with plaintiffs' attorneys displaying pictures of children killed in the 1993 tragedy and government lawyers countering that the carnage was caused by the sect and its apocalyptic leader.
"I'd like to introduce you to some of my clients," Houston lawyer Michael Caddell told an advisory jury of six people and the one alternate as they silently watched images of smiling, waving children.
Pausing to display photos of 15 children between the ages of 2 and 17 who died in the incident, he added with each picture that the child "never owned a gun. Never broke the law. Never hurt anyone."
U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford of Beaumont countered that Branch Davidians were an "armed encampment" that ambushed agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms looking for illegal weapons.
He told jurors that sect members set their compound near Waco afire on orders of their leader, David Koresh, when FBI agents tried to force them out with tear gas. Four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians died in the initial raid on Feb. 28, 1993. About 80 Branch Davidians, including more than 20 children, died when the compound burned about six hours into the FBI's tear-gas operation on April 19, 1993.
"The responsibility for those tragic events should not be placed upon the shoulders of the brave men and women of the ATF and the FBI," Mr. Bradford said. "The responsibility for what happened at Mount Carmel is on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. They caused this dangerous situation to occur, and they brought it to a tragic end."
Among spectators who filled the second-story federal courtroom Tuesday were sect members who survived the 51-day siege and fire. Several stood to be introduced during their lawyers' opening statements, and the rest watched quietly as both sides laid out their sharply conflicting versions of Mr. Koresh, his followers and their actions in 1993.
Three of the survivors, including two teenagers who were 8 and 10 at the time of the incident, were the first witnesses, and their testimony marked the first time any members of the sect have testified in the long series of criminal proceedings and civil suits arising from the standoff.
The initial raid
The day's testimony focused on the initial Feb. 28 gunfight as the witnesses offered vivid descriptions of the terror and chaos at their rural McLennan County home after heavily armed ATF agents pulled up in cattle trailers to serve arrest and search warrants.
They disputed government lawyers' statements that the sect was "armed to the teeth." Instead, survivors described Mount Carmel as a happy place where children romped and adults learned the Bible from Mr. Koresh.
"There were people from all over the world: different personalities, different families, different interests, different likes and dislikes. We were all there for one purpose, and that was the Bible studies," said Rita Riddle, an Asheville, N.C., resident who lived off and on for two years at Mount Carmel before the raid and lost her brother Jimmy in the final fire. "David was my teacher."
She and other sect members disputed government lawyers' arguments that Mr. Koresh taught them how to use guns, displayed weapons as part of his religious teachings and indoctrinated members for war and mass suicide. But they conceded that Mr. Koresh took other men's wives as his own and fathered many of the young children who died in the fire.
"It was our home. It was like an apartment building, a community center," testified 18-year-old survivor Jaunessa Wendel, who was 10 at the time of the incident.
Ms. Wendel calmly recounted how bullets crashed through a window on the morning of Feb. 28 as her mother was brushing her hair in their upstairs bedroom. At the time, she said, her two preschool siblings were sleeping on the floor and her 5-month-old brother lay in his crib near the window.
"My first memory is of our window shattering. ... There was glass in my brother's crib," she said. "My mom sort of scurried us out the door into the hallway and then she went and grabbed my baby brother."
"I remember my Mom went back into her room, and I never saw her again," she said.
Ms. Wendel's mother, Jaydean Wendel, was among the sect members who died in the initial shootout. Jaunessa came out of Mount Carmel along with her siblings during the first week. Her father, Mark Wendel, died in the final April 19 fire.
Ms. Wendel and two other women who also surrendered to authorities during the siege told jurors how they cowered for hours in a second-floor hallway during the protracted gunfight. Each said they heard and saw no warning or preparation for the ATF's raid.
"Kids were screaming, crying. It was a mess," said London resident Natalie Nobrega, adding that she later returned to her bedroom and found her bedcovers riddled with bullet holes. "If I had been sleeping, I think I would not be here today. ... If I had stayed in bed, like I wanted to."
Government lawyers immediately challenged both Ms. Wendel and Ms. Riddle, pointing out that Ms. Wendel and another adult survivor had told authorities that they each had seen Ms. Riddle carrying or shooting a gun on Feb. 28.
Ms. Riddle denied having a gun and insisted that the first shots she heard came from outside. Ms. Nobrega echoed that, telling the court despite government objections that the first "ticking noises" of exploding bullets came from too far away to have originated from inside the building.
Ms. Wendel testified that she was confused and fearful that she and her siblings "might be split up" when she told a Texas Ranger a week after the initial shootout that she had seen her parents and Ms. Riddle with guns.
She insisted Tuesday that what she told the Ranger was wrong.
"I know I was very scared at the time," she said as the taped 30-minute interview with the Ranger was played for the jury. "I was just trying to give him what he wanted."
Mr. Bradford responded by repeating Ms. Wendel's account to the Ranger that her mother "laid down, got a gun and she started shooting back," and used a weapon called a .223. AR-15s, which fire .223-caliber bullets, were among the more than 300 guns found in the wreckage of the building after the siege.
"You just made all that up?" he asked.
The day ended with lawyers for the sect reading portions of another Branch Davidian child's sworn testimony about the siege and the 1993 interview statements of 25 ATF agents involved in the shootout. In the statements, given to Texas Rangers just after the incident, the federal agents described shooting repeatedly at the compound despite their inability to see the gunmen who were firing at them from inside the building.
Allegations that government agents used excessive force and fired indiscriminately during the Feb. 28 raid make up one of four major issues in the lawsuit. The other three issues focus on the FBI's efforts to end the siege with an April 19 tear-gas assault. Mr. Bradford argued Monday that ATF agents acted properly "in a gunfight for their lives."
He said the testimony of federal officials from Attorney General Janet Reno down will show that the two FBI commanders, Jeffrey Jamar and Richard Rogers, acted properly and prudently in "a very dangerous situation." He also promised jurors that the two now-retired FBI agents will testify in detail about their actions in 1993.
The government won a preliminary victory Tuesday when U.S. District Judge Walter Smith ruled that the plaintiffs must seek permission before telling jurors what the government's negotiators advised and feared about the FBI's tear-gas operation.
The government's lawyers had complained that admitting the negotiators' documents and testimony into evidence would be improper because it would violate Judge Smith's ruling that negotiations and other FBI actions were protected from litigation by federal law.
The ruling was made after government lawyers agreed that they would not try to argue that individual Branch Davidians should be held partially negligent for refusing to come out and surrender.
Mr. Caddell said plaintiffs won a big concession with the government's agreement. He predicted that the judge will ultimately allow the jury to see memos from an FBI behavioral expert warning that sending in tanks would guarantee violence and tragedy.
Both sides also declared victory in a day that began with what appeared to be a race to condemn Mr. Koresh and detail his arsenal.
WACO, Tex., June 20 -- Trial in a lawsuit filed against the government by survivors and relatives of those killed in the 1993 fire at the Branch Davidian compound began today with the two sides giving different interpretations of the same basic facts.
"This case is about truth and responsibility," said Michael A. Caddell, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "We'll hear the truth about what happened at Mount Carmel and who bears the responsibility for what happened, including the death of 25 children."
J. Michael Bradford, the United States attorney in Texas, told the federal judge and seven-member advisory jury hearing the case that responsibility was also the theme of his defense. "The responsibility for this tragedy is with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians," he said.
The case grew out of a botched raid in which 10 people died, including 4 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents trying to arrest the group's leader, David Koresh, for weapons violations. After a 51-day standoff, Mr. Koresh and more than 79 of his followers died when fire broke out as federal agents used armored tanks to pump tear gas into the sect's ramshackle compound near here.
Mr. Bradford said the Branch Davidians had ambushed the 80 officers involved in the first raid on Feb. 28, 1993.
He said Mr. Koresh had trained them to use weapons in anticipation of just such a confrontation, and quoted him as telling his followers, 'If you can't kill for God, you can't die for God.' "
Plaintiffs are asking for $695 million in damages from the government, accusing federal agents of contributing to the deaths of the Branch Davidians.
Other accusations in the suit, that agents fired into the compound, preventing the Branch Davidians from fleeing, will be heard later, according to an order by the judge, Walter S. Smith Jr.
Mr. Caddell said his lawsuit revolved around four issues: Did federal agents direct indiscriminate gunfire at the compound during the initial raid? Did the F.B.I. deviate from its approved operational plan? Did unauthorized F.B.I. action cause or contribute to the fire? And did the F.B.I. violate Attorney General Janet Reno's orders by not having firefighting equipment available on April 19, 1993?
"Half of this case rests on what happened on April 19," he said, laying much of blame for the events of that day on the F.B.I.'s field commanders for the operation, Jeffrey Jamar and Rick Rogers.
"Make no mistake," Mr. Caddell said. "The men driving the tanks that day were only following orders. The men responsible were Jamar and Rogers."
Mr. Caddell moved quickly to separate his clients from those Branch Davidians involved with weapons or violence during the raid, admitting that hundreds of firearms were found in the burned-out compound.
"That is not in dispute here," he said. "Eight people were convicted for those crimes and sent to prison. None of them are involved in this lawsuit. I am not here to defend David Koresh."
He also conceded that some Branch Davidians may have set at least one of three fires that government investigators say started the April 19, 1993, blaze.
For his part, Mr. Bradford tried to deflect charges of indiscriminate firing by government agents by describing the chaotic conditions during the raid. "They did not expect to receive gunfire," he said. "The agents were in a situation where they were pinned down and fighting for their lives."
Three Branch Davidians injured during the raid, he said, were killed by their own companions. "The B.A.T.F. tried to get them out for medical treatment, but instead of giving them medical attention they were shot," Mr. Bradford said.
He also scoffed at Mr. Caddell's theory of the origin of the fires: "They didn't start just one of the fires, they started all of them."
Knowing that jurors will have to sift through mountains of documents and physical evidence, both sides tried to personalize the anguish their clients have gone through over the events of seven and a half years ago.
Mr. Bradford continually referred to the agents of the A.T.F. and F.B.I. as victims of Mr. Koresh's blood lust against the government. "They were simply trying to carry out their duties and responsibilities, and they met a dangerous man named David Koresh," he said.
At one point in his presentation, Mr. Caddell displayed photographs of 15 children killed, saying "Let me introduce my clients."
As the children's images appeared on a screen in the courtroom, Mr. Caddell repeated a similar litany about each: "She never owned a gun. She never held a gun. She never fired a gun. She never hurt anyone."
The plaintiffs in the Branch Davidians' wrongful-death lawsuit against the government started early Tuesday during the first day of testimony trying to put a face on their case a young face.
"This case is about truth and responsibility," said Houston attorney Mike Caddell, in his opening. "Truth about what happened at Mount Carmel and responsibility for the many people who died there, including 25 children."
Caddell showed video images of 15 children who died seven years ago in the events following the fire that destroyed Mount Carmel. As each image flashed on the screen, Caddell hung photographs of children like Hollywood Sylvia on a board in front of the seven-person advisory jury in U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr.'s Waco courtroom.
Sylvia was the child of David Koresh and Lorraine Sylvia.
"Hollywood Sylvia never owned a gun," Caddell said. "Never fired a gun. Never broke the law. Never hurt anyone. Hollywood died on April 19, 1993. She was two years old."
Plaintiffs attorney James Brannon, representing the legal children of Koresh, laid the blame for the children's deaths at the government's feet.
"What did the government do to protect these children, even against their own parents?" asked Brannon, in his opening statement. "That's a key question to a child: 'Who is going to protect me?'"
Government co-counsel Michael Bradford, however, put the blame for the deaths elsewhere.
"David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, they were the ones responsible for this tragedy," Bradford said.
Bradford called Koresh "a self-proclaimed messiah" who thought he was "ordained by God to predict when the world would end."
Jurors should consider the act of FBI agent James McGee, who exposed himself to possible gunfire to keep Ruth Ottman Riddle from going back inside a burning Mount Carmel, Bradford said.
"You will have to decide if that is the conduct of people out there to do harm," Bradford said.
Plaintiffs began with the first of four issues the jury will consider: whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms randomly fired shots on Feb. 28, 1993 while trying to arrest Koresh for owning automatic weapons. Four ATF agents and five Davidians died in a shoot-out that led to a 51-day siege.
Caddell called two witnesses to give a kid's perspective on the raid.
Jaunessa Wendel was 8 years old and Natalie Nobrega was 10 years old in 1993.. Wendel's mother, Jaydean, died in the raid. Nobrega's mother, Theresa, died on the day of the fire. Both Wendel and Nobrega were released before the fire.
"My first memory was the windows shattering," Wendel, 16, told Caddell.
"Did they shatter in or out?" Caddell asked.
"I'm not definitely certain," Wendel said. "But there was glass in my brother's crib."
Wendel said her mother hustled her four children into the hallway.
"I stayed low," Wendel said. "I was terrified. I didn't know what was going on. I was shocked and extremely scared."
Caddell asked the last time Wendel saw her mother, whom Wendel testified did not carry a weapon.
"I remember my mom went back into our room," Wendel said. "I never saw her again."
Bradford asked Wendel why she told a Texas Ranger in 1993 that her mother was armed. Wendel said that the answer was probably "suggested" to her by other people who had talked to her.
"That's the only reason I can think of," Wendel said.
She later told Caddell that she had been frightened during the interview.
"I didn't know what he wanted from me, and I was trying to give him what he wanted," Wendel said.
Bradford asked Wendel if her mother knew anything about guns.
"She had gone through police training," Wendel said. "I think that's what you're referring to. She never got her badge."
Nobrega, 18, testified that she had just finished eating breakfast when the raid occurred.
"There was a ticking sound," Nobrega said. "Pop, pop. Like that. I was taking notice of it, and the window smashed. My mother grabbed and covered me."
Her room was shot up, Nobrega said.
All my quilt coverings were full of holes," she said. "If I had been sleeping, I would not be here today.
Nobrega recalled Mount Carmel as a fun place to live. She said driving go-carts was her favorite pastime. Outside the courtroom, Caddell told reporters that Mount Carmel was "like a summer camp" for the .
childrenMarie Hagen, government co-counsel, presented a starker view of the environment.
Questioning Rita Riddle, the plaintiffs' first witness, Hagen read off a string of names of children at Mount Carmel. One child was Serenity Sea Jones, the daughter of Michele Jones, Koresh's sister-in-law. Michele Jones gave birth to Serenity Sea while she was 13 years old.
Riddle confirmed that each child on Hagen's list was fathered by Koresh.
Caddell later presented a series of statements from ATF agents to support his argument they fired their weapons indiscriminately during their raid.
ATF agent Mark Handley, for example, told the Texas Rangers he fired at a window because he was afraid someone could chunk a fragmentary grenade out of it and wipe out those huddled near the front of Mount Carmel.
Fellow ATF agent Thomas Crowley remembered another agent saying, "Don't just randomly shoot, we might need the ammunition later."
Both sides gave a peek in their opening statements as to how they view such key issues as the alleged dismantling of Mount Carmel and the FBI's decision not to bring in firefighting equipment in case of a fire issues to be addressed later in the trial.
Caddell said an apparent application for medals to be given to FBI tank drivers reveals why the tanks pierced Mount Carmel's gymnasium. The application said the tank drivers were given the mission of "slowly and methodically beginning the dismantling of the building at the back of the compound."
"Make no mistake," Caddell said. "The men driving tanks were following orders. The men responsible for this were Jamar and Rogers."
Jeffrey Jamar was the lead FBI agent at Mount Carmel. Richard Rogers headed the Hostage Rescue Team.
Bradford, however, argued that the plan to dismantle Mount Carmel to go into effect if the Davidians didn't leave after 48 hours involved using a tank with a blade to cut through the building's framing. The tanks, though, collapsed the gym while trying to get to a cement-block room in order to disperse tear gas, according to Bradford.
"There is no evidence they prematurely instigated the plan," Bradford said. "Their (plaintiffs) whole purpose is to confuse you. It has nothing to do with the case."
Caddell said there is no evidence the Davidians started two of the three simultaneous fires that combined to destroy Mount Carmel. In the upstairs room where TV viewers of the siege first saw smoke, there were no burn patterns indicating an accelerant being poured, Caddell said. However, he acknowledged the Davidians may have started a fire in the gym, "in the mistaken belief fire would protect them."
Caddell blamed the tanks ripping into Mount Carmel for helping spread the fire.
"If you've ever started a fire, you know the first thing you do is make kindling," Caddell said. "Then you have to provide ventilation."
Bradford, however, said logic doesn't support Caddell's contention the Davidians only set one fire.
"You don't have fires starting simultaneously," Bradford said.
WACO, Tex., June 20 More than seven years after an inferno at the Branch Davidian complex near here claimed 75 lives, attorney Michael Caddell told a jury today that he would prove federal agents were responsible for the deaths.
In opening statements in a $675 million wrongful death lawsuit, Caddell characterized a host of actions by federal agencies as irresponsible, from the botched raid and shootout at the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993, to the methods used to end the ensuing 51-day standoff.
The tear-gas assault and fire on April 19 occurred after on-scene commanders became "frustrated and ordered the dismantling of the building" in a substantial deviation from a plan that called for a "two-day process . . . to convince the occupants to leave," Caddell said.
The key issues in the case--which consolidates nine civil lawsuits filed in 1994--include the cause of the conflagration at the Mount Carmel compound on the outskirts of this central Texas city and whether federal agents recklessly jeopardized the lives of the compound's residents, most of whom were women and children.
As the trial began today, a witness who lived in the compound as a child disputed her taped 1993 interview with a Texas Ranger, in which she said her mother shot at federal agents during the initial raid. The interview was conducted within days of the raid.
Caddell told the six jurors that the FBI fired incendiary tear gas canisters that started at least two of the three fires that engulfed the compound, but acknowledged that sect members set the third fire.
FBI agents fired weapons to prevent the Branch Davidians from escaping and negligently excluded firefighting measures from the overall assault plan, Caddell contended.
Four federal law officers and six Branch Davidians were killed when agents, suspecting weapons violations, tried to serve a search warrant on the compound. That began a 51-day siege that ended when the FBI used tanks to pierce walls and pump in tear gas. The wooden complex went up in flames. Five Branch Davidians were convicted in 1994 of aiding and abetting voluntary manslaughter in the agents' deaths. Two were convicted of firearms violations.
U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford, the lead defense attorney, said blame for the loss of life, though "a tragedy that is terrible for all of us," lies at the feet of the Branch Davidians and their leader, David Koresh, who, he contended, led the sect into a suicide pact.
No residents were hurt when tanks punched holes in the compound's buildings to pour in tear gas and flush out the Branch Davidians because that was done in largely vacant areas of the structures, Bradford told jurors.
Bradford portrayed the compound as an armed encampment led by a self-described messiah who was convinced the world would end in a violent confrontation with the government.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith has said he will issue the verdict in the case, using the jury in an advisory capacity. The trial is expected to last as long as a month.
Last week, Smith announced he would delay testimony about whether FBI agents fired into the compound because an expert witness in the case is ill.
The plaintiffs claim that flashes of light on FBI infrared aerial surveillance video are gunshots fired by agents to prevent sect members from escaping. Government officials contend no shots were fired by the FBI and that the flashes were made by sunlight reflecting off debris.
In a courtroom filled with members of the sect from across the world, 16-year-old Jaunessa Wendell of Spokane, Wash., the day's second witness, described Mount Carmel as an idyllic place where parents studied biblical teachings while children fed ducks, took walks and played games.
"It was our home," said Wendell, who was 8 years old at the time of the siege and lived at the compound with her parents and three younger siblings. "It was like a big apartment building with a community center."
Wendell's mother was killed during the initial raid. Her father sent the children from the compound a week later and died in the fire.
Wendell spent most of an hour on the witness stand recanting a March 9, 1993, taped interview with a Texas Ranger in which she said her mother shot at federal agents during the raid. She said she invented those statements out of fear that she and her siblings would be split up.
She testified today that she did not see any residents with guns that morning.
"I was confused and scared," she said.
The Siege and Aftermath
February 1993: About 100 federal agents raided the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex., after finding the group had been stockpiling illegal weapons. Four agents and six Branch Davidians were killed in the firefight.
April 1993: The FBI fired and pumped tear gas into the compound to flush out the Branch Davidians. A fire quickly destroyed the compound, and 75 inside, including leader David Koresh, were killed.
September 1993: A report on the initial raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that commanders wrongly decided to go ahead after they knew the element of surprise had been lost and that officials made "less than truthful" public statements about the raid.
October 1993: A report on the FBI assault found the Branch Davidians started the fire and that contrary to information Attorney General Janet Reno had been given, children were not being abused at the time of the assault.
February 1994: A jury rejected murder charges against 11 Branch Davidians in the deaths of four agents. Seven of them were convicted of lesser charges.
August 1999: The FBI reversed its six-year-old position that it never used munitions capable of sparking the blaze that ended the standoff.
September 1999: Reno asked former senator John C. Danforth to head an independent inquiry into the siege and recused herself from the probe.
March 2000: A court-ordered live-fire exercise attempted to determine whether federal agents shot at Branch Davidians after the compound was set ablaze.
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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