WACO -- Following the botched raid on the Branch Davidian compound, federal agents admitted to police they fired blindly into windows without knowing what they were shooting at, a federal jury heard Tuesday.
Michael Caddell, lead attorney for the more than 100 Davidians and families suing the federal government over the raid, read the statements from more than two dozen Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents to the jury.
It took Caddell nearly an hour to get through the statements, which painted a picture of agents shooting at shadows and fluttering curtains after they were repelled with gunfire from arresting Davidian leader David Koresh on Feb. 28, 1993.
Ten people, including four ATF agents, were killed in the hail of gunfire. Inside the compound, among those killed was a mother shot in front of her 8-year-old daughter.
"A whole lot of shooting was going on in violation of instructions given to the agents," said Jim Brannon of Houston, another attorney for the plaintiffs. "You don't just shoot generally. You shoot at specific targets.
" Indiscriminate gunfire is one of four key elements to the case, Caddell told the jury. The others are the FBI's deviation from a plan approved by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to end the standoff; the FBI's actions that caused the deadly fire; and the FBI's failure to have firefighting equipment on the scene, Caddell said.
The shootout led to a 51-day standoff that ended April 19 in an inferno that killed 80 Davidians, including 25 children.
In their lawsuit against the federal government, survivors claim ATF and FBI agents caused the deaths of innocent people both in the way the initial assault was conducted and in the way the siege was concluded.
Tuesday was the first day of testimony in the trial before U.S. District Judge Walter Smith.
Plaintiffs presented Smith and the six-person jury with the statements ATF agents gave to Texas Rangers following the assault on Mount Carmel. Many of the agents said they fired into the building even though they never saw anyone through the windows.
"I didn't see anyone shooting at our people," said sniper Paul J. Smith's statement.
Smith said after he realized AFT agents had not entered the compound, "I just started shooting at those windows. I put 30 or 40 rounds in there."
"At no time did I see any occupant, other than shadows moving," agent Mark Murray told the Rangers.
To demonstrate the consequences of the gunfire, Caddell put 16-year-old Jauness Wendel on the stand. She was eight in 1993 and was in her room at Mount Carmel with her mother and three siblings when the shooting started.
No one in the room was armed, she said. Her mother was killed by the gunfire that shattered the windows and spewed glass into the crib where her one-year-old brother was sleeping.
"I am not here to defend David Koresh," Caddell said, "but the Davidians did not ambush the ATF."
Caddell began the day with a video of some of the children who died in the fire.
As each child's image appeared on the screen, Caddell gave the name, age and repeated, "never owned a gun, never fired a gun, never broke the law, never hurt anyone."
In his opening statement, U.S. Att. Mike Bradford told the jury that "the evidence will show that the responsibility (for the deaths) should not be placed on the shoulders of the brave men and women of the ATF and the FBI. David Koresh and the Branch Davidians themselves were responsible for those events."
Mount Carmel, Bradford said, was "an armed compound" presided over by Koresh, who had warned his followers that the end would come in an armed conflict with the ATF. He quoted Koresh as saying, "If you can't kill for God, you can't die for God."
Outside the courtroom, Caddell said Bradford offered the jury "a case he can't deliver. It was just his spin on things."
WACO Jurors in the Branch Davidian wrongful-death lawsuit heard a dramatic 911 recording Wednesday of the chaotic firefight that began a 1993 standoff with federal authorities, a recording that began with a sect member screaming for federal agents to "back off'' amid the din of heavy gunfire.
"There are 75 men around our building and they're shooting at us out at Mt. Carmel ... Tell them there are woman and children here and to call it off," Davidian Wayne Martin told McLennan County sheriff's Lt. Larry Lynch. "Call it off!"
"I hear gunfire! Oh ... [expletive]!'' Lt. Lynch responds. "They're still shooting. I can hear the bullets. God almighty, I knew this ..."
The hour-long tape opened Wednesday's trial testimony in the suit, which alleges that agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms used excessive force in their initial raid on the sect's rural home. Government lawyers have maintained that the agents acted properly, firing only when they were met by an ambush and shooting only at areas of the compound where they detected hostile gunfire.
Four ATF agents and six Davidians died on Feb. 28, 1993. More than 80 Davidians died 51 days later in a fire that erupted after FBI agents began ramming the compound with tanks and spraying in tear gas to try to force the sect to surrender.
The lawsuit also alleges that the FBI mishandled the tear gas assault, violating Washington-approved plans and contributing to the fires that ended the standoff.
In Wednesday's playing of the dramatic 911 recording, Mr. Martin and other sect members could be heard complaining repeatedly that government agents began shooting first.
"I'm under fire! ... I have a right do defend myself! They started firing first,'' Mr. Martin screams.
Davidian Steve Schneider can then be heard yelling on the same compound speaker phone that government forces have sent in a helicopter to fire on the compound. Three Texas National Guard helicopters were used in the Feb. 28 assault, but ATF officials and the National Guard pilots who flew the aircraft have long insisted that they were unarmed and only provided a diversion for the ATF raid.
"Another chopper with more people and more guns and they're firing!" Mr. Schneider screams on the 911 recording. "They're still firing. That's not us.. That's them!"
Mr. Schneider and Mr. Martin both died in the April 19 fire.
The portions of the 911 conversation played by lawyers for the sect also include loud bursts of gunfire and Lt. Lynch's speculation that the sounds appeared to be coming from inside the compound.
"They're shooting again, and it's automatic gunfire, sounds like," the sheriff's deputy can be heard saying at one point.
ATF agents went to the compound on Feb. 28 to arrest Davidian leader David Koresh and search his compound for illegally converted machine guns and other weapons.
ATF agents said they were met with withering bursts of automatic gunfire. Authorities said they found 48 illegally converted machine guns in the compound rubble after the siege.
After one burst of gunfire, Lt. Lynch asks Mr. Martin, "Are you returning fire?"
A second staccato burst of pops follows, and Mr. Schneider then can be heard yelling, "That's them! They're shooting at the door! ... They're doing all this firing at us!"
As Lt. Lynch tries to make contact with the ATF agents outside the compound, a Davidian yells, "If they don't back off, we're going to go to the last man .... Tell them to get off our road, to get away from our door, to get away from our window! ...They're bringing more weapons out! They're breaking out the big stuff!''
Government lawyers followed the plaintiffs' presentation of the tape by playing later segments of the 911 tape in which Davidians repeatedly refused Lt. Lynch's pleas to allow wounded ATF agents to be rescued.
They also played portions of conversations between Lt. Lynch and Mr. Koresh.
"What did you go and do that for? You killed some of my children. We told you we wanted to talk," Mr. Koresh says. Mr. Koresh would continue insisting during the early part of the standoff that a toddler had been killed during the gunfight.
But authorities said they later determined that none of the sect members who died on Feb. 28 were children.
Plaintiffs' lawyers said they will shift Wednesday afternoon to testimony from Dick DeGuerin, a Houston lawyer who represented Mr. Koresh and met with him several times in the compound to try to get him to surrender.
Mr. Martin's widow, Sheila Martin, sat in the courtroom Wednesday morning listening intently to the 911 tape of her husband speaking with authorities. She said her husband was on the speakerphone so that he could get out of the view of ATF agents.
On the day of the raid, she said, she was on the top floor, but could still hear her husband on the bottom yelling into the phone. Mrs. Martin said it was "rough" to hear his voice on the tapes.
"He was just trying to save his life," she said. "When you are told 911 is suppose to help you, that's why he turned to it first. His first reaction was to get help."
WACO Jurors in the Branch Davidian wrongful-death lawsuit heard a 911 tape Wednesday of the chaotic firefight that began a 1993 standoff with federal authorities, a recording that began with a sect member screaming for federal agents to "back off" and the din of heavy gunfire.
"There are 75 men around our building, and they're shooting at us out at Mount Carmel. ...Tell them there are women and children here and to call it off," Davidian Wayne Martin told McLennan County sheriff's Lt. Larry Lynch. "Call it off!"
"I hear gunfire! Oh [expletive]!" Lt. Lynch responded. "They're still shooting. I can hear the bullets. God almighty, I knew this. ..."
The hourlong tape opened Wednesday's testimony in the wrongful-death trial, which alleges that agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms used excessive force in their initial raid on the sect's rural compound.
Government lawyers have maintained that ATF agents acted properly, returning fire only when they were met by an ambush and shooting only at areas of the compound where they detected hostile gunfire. Four ATF agents and six Davidians died on Feb. 28, 1993.
More than 80 Davidians died 51 days later in a fire that erupted after FBI agents began ramming the compound with tanks and spraying in tear gas to try to force sect members to surrender. The lawsuit also alleges that the FBI mishandled the tear-gas assault, violating Washington-approved plans and contributing to the fires that ended the standoff.
Government lawyers have maintained that sect members set all of the fires, noting that FBI listening devices captured conversations on April 19, 1993, in which Davidians discussed pouring fuel and lighting the final blaze.
Plaintiffs' lawyers called one witness Wednesday, Houston lawyer Dick DeGuerin. Mr. DeGuerin briefly represented Davidian leader David Koresh and tried to persuade him to surrender during a series of face-to-face meetings during the siege. He also criticized authorities after the raid, saying they ignored the sect's pledge to give up after Mr. Koresh finished a theological manuscript a promise the FBI ridiculed.
Attorney General Janet Reno later told a Justice Department investigator that she regretted not speaking with the Houston lawyer before approving the FBI's tear-gas assault. "If I had [it] to do over, I think I would have talked or had Webb [then-Assistant Attorney General Webster Hubbell] talk to lawyer DeGuerin," stated notes from the September 1993 interview.
Outside the courtroom, Mr. DeGuerin said that the evidence being brought out in the civil case has long needed a full public airing.
"It's important that the focus is finally on the government's conduct and not on whether David Koresh was a horrible person," he said. "My main concern, at this point, is that the public knows that the government treated everybody without justification."
On Wednesday, Mr. DeGuerin told jurors of touring the compound during the 1993 siege and finding much of it riddled with bullet holes. He said the building's right front door was also pocked by incoming gunfire.
"All of the bullet holes I saw had smooth edges from bullets coming from the outside," said Mr. DeGuerin, who went inside the building four times and stood just outside that door during his first trip to Mount Carmel during the siege.
That right door vanished after the compound burned. Federal authorities have maintained that it had been destroyed during the FBI's final assault. Lawyers for the sect, and other government critics, have long questioned that, suggesting that the door could have provided crucial evidence to support the sect's assertions about indiscriminate ATF firing on Feb. 28. The adjoining door was recovered and contained both incoming and outgoing bullet holes.
Mr. DeGuerin insisted under close government questioning that he saw only incoming holes and saw them only on the now-missing door and saw no holes in the other door. He also acknowledged being told during his visits that Mr. Koresh had sent women upstairs and men downstairs to bedrooms lining the outer walls to await his orders after learning on Feb. 28 that the ATF was approaching.
"I was told that David said, 'Do not fire until I give the word.'"
The 911 recording offered the most dramatic evidence in a day largely filled with recitations of deposition testimony from surviving Branch Davidians. In that testimony, Davidians spoke of their devotion to Mr. Koresh as a messenger of God and resisted government suggestions that their home was an armed camp. All insisted that the first shots came from outside their building.
Their assertions echoed the first account from a compound occupant describing the firefight just after it erupted in the 911 recording from tapes made at McLennan County's main emergency dispatch operation.
"I'm under fire!" Mr. Martin could be heard screaming during the opening minutes of the tape. "I have a right to defend myself. They started firing first!"
Portions of the recording have been played in congressional hearings and the 1994 criminal trial of surviving Branch Davidians. But Wednesday's playing of the 911 recording marked the first time that a jury heard Mr. Martin scream repeatedly that government agents were the first to shoot. Judge Smith ruled that portion of the tape self-serving and inadmissible when he presided over the criminal trial.
The 911 conversation played by lawyers for the sect also included loud bursts of gunfire and Lt. Lynch's speculation that the sounds appeared to be coming from inside the compound. "They're shooting again, and it's automatic gunfire, sounds like," the sheriff's official muttered at one point.
ATF agents went to the compound Feb. 28 to arrest Mr. Koresh and search his compound for illegal machine guns and other weapons.
ATF agents said they were met with withering bursts of automatic gunfire, and authorities found 48 illegally converted machine guns in the compound rubble after the siege.
As Lt. Lynch frantically scrambled to make contact with the ATF agents outside the compound, a Davidian could be heard yelling on the tape: "Tell them to get off our road, to get away from our door, to get away from our window! ...If they don't back off, we're going to go to the last man!"
After the plaintiffs' presentation, government lawyers played additional taped segments in which Mr. Koresh alternately threatened and preached to Lt.. Lynch as the sheriff's official begged for a cease-fire. "You guys are very foolish," Mr. Koresh said. "You don't know what we have. You don't know what we've got."
Mr. Koresh also rebuffed offers of help for wounded Davidians. "They're not injured that bad," he said. "They don't want you to take care of them."
Mr. Martin later refused offers of help for injured sect members even after he and the deputy had managed to negotiate evacuation of ATF casualties. "We don't want anything from your country," said Mr. Martin, who later died when the compound burned.
Mr. Martin's widow, Sheila Martin, listened intently to the recording Wednesday, telling reporters afterward that it had been "rough" to hear his voice. "He was just trying to save his life," she said.
The trial's focus shifted late Wednesday afternoon to the fiery ending of the 1993 . siege. Plaintiffs' lawyers began offering excerpts of depositions in which Davidians told of the inferno that their home became after the FBI's tear-gas assault.
Davidian Derek Lovelock described FBI tear-gas grenades raining into the building and a fire erupting six hours into the assault. He told of dodging a fireball and wandering blindly through black smoke so thick that he couldn't see his own hands. He was among the few fire survivors not charged with criminal violations after the incident.
He added that he never saw anyone pouring fuel, starting fires or talking about taking either action in response to the FBI's tank assault. "I just could hear people in the background like they were being burned," he said.
Under government questioning, Mr. Lovelock also refused, however, to give voice samples for comparison to the voices intercepted by FBI bugs on April 19 of Davidians discussing pouring fuel and setting fires. Government lawyers have used that refusal as the basis for arguing that Mr. Lovelock should be considered liable in the civil case for helping start the fire.
Thursday's trial proceedings are expected to focus on the deposition testimony of top FBI officials about their planning and execution of the raid.
WACO, Texas (AP) - After audiotapes revealed the panic on both sides of the 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound, attention has shifted to the final, fiery day of the 51-day siege.
Plaintiffs in the Davidian wrongful death trial on Wednesday wrapped up their testimony with 911 tapes which captured exchanges between a member of the Davidians and officials.
``There are 75 men around us and they are shooting at us at Mount Carmel!'' sect member Wayne Martin screamed. ``Tell them there are children and women in here and to call it off!''
The shooting began Feb. 28, 1993, when federal agents tried to serve search and arrest warrants on the Mount Carmel complex outside Waco on suspected gun violations. Four agents and six Davidians died that day.
The ordeal ended 51 days later when the FBI tear gassed the wooden complex and a fire engulfed the building. In the end, about 80 Davidians were killed either by gunfire or the blaze.
Survivors and family members of the Davidians are seeking $675 million in a wrongful death lawsuit that, among other things, argues that federal agents fired indiscriminately, knowing women and children were inside. The government contends that sect members shot first during the raid and started the fire.
Michael Caddell, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said he plans next to present testimony about whether the government started the fire, whether it was negligent by withholding firefighting equipment and whether the use of tanks to push into the compound deviated from the operations plan approved by Attorney General Janet Reno.
Reno's videotaped deposition may be presented.
For the first time, a jury heard the entire first 911 tape of the beginning of the raid and siege. The segment played Wednesday captured Martin's insistence that he had a right to shoot back.
``I have a right to defend myself! They started shooting first!'' Martin yelled in a speakerphone to McLennan County Sheriff's Lt. Larry Lynch. ``Tell them to hold their fire, leave the property and we'll talk!''
Pops of gunfire are heard in the background as sheriff's officials scrambled to calm Martin while simultaneously trying to reach federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents at the scene.
More of the exchange was heard when government attorneys countered with tape segments of their own. Their excerpts included recordings of Lynch trying to persuade Martin to maintain the cease-fire so injured agents could be retrieved and to arrange help for the injured.
The injured agents were removed, but the Davidians rejected medical help.
``We don't want anything from your country,'' Martin said on one tape. ``That's what our wounded are telling us. They don't want your help.''
Martin and four of his children ultimately died in the fire.
U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford, who is a lead counsel for the government, said as he left the courthouse: ``We do not believe the plaintiffs have proven through the evidence they presented so far that the ATF is responsible for anything.''
But Caddell said the 911 tapes demonstrated poor leadership and judgment by law enforcement.
``I have to believe there was a mistake, an error in judgment on both sides,'' Caddell said. ``I think the ATF made the first error in judgment and I think the most serious error in judgment.''
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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