Two dozen friends and relatives gathered Friday in a chapel built on remnants of the burned Branch Davidian compound to remember the six sect members who died 10 years ago on the first day of a two-months siege.
The standoff ended when FBI-led military vehicles rammed and sprayed tear gas into the compound, which exploded in flames and burned to the ground. More than 70 people were killed in the fire, including nearly two dozen children.
Four federal agents also died the first day of the standoff, Feb. 28, 1993. The agents were raided the building to arrest sect leader David Koresh, suspected of stockpiling illegal weapons and explosives.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms held a private memorial service in Houston and placed wreaths on the agents' graves around the country.
The Davidians said agents ambushed them and that sect members fired in self-defense. Authorities say sect members fired first.
Koresh's mother, Bonnie Haldeman, attended the service in Waco.
``This was a harmless bunch of people,'' she said of Davidians. ``David didn't have a mean bone in his body. David did not believe in murder.''
Jane McKeehan's son, Todd, was among the agents who were killed that day.
``It doesn't get easier. You just learn to cope,'' she said. ``I baby-sit my grandchildren a lot, and I didn't want them to remember me being sad all the time. We try not to dwell on the past and what happened and how it happened.''
Children were playing, women were cleaning the kitchen and some men were reading the newspaper that Sunday morning as rain drizzled outside the Branch Davidian compound.
Just before 10 a.m., sect leader David Koresh appeared in the cafeteria doorway and said he'd been told someone was coming.
"He said, `Everybody stay calm,'" recalled Clive Doyle, who was in the compound. "I could hear him go down the hall and open the door. Then I heard gunfire, shots being fired by the hundreds. I heard him say, `Wait! We've got women and children in here!'"
It was Feb. 28, 1993, when federal agents were trying to arrest Koresh for stockpiling illegal weapons. By the end of the day, six Branch Davidians and four officers were dead.
The botched raid triggered a 51-day standoff that ended when FBI-led military vehicles rammed and spewed tear gas into the compound, which exploded in flames and burned to the ground. More than 70 people died, including two dozen children.
Survivors and families of the slain Branch Davidians planned to hold a memorial service Friday at a chapel built a few years ago on the site, called Mount Carmel, 10 miles east of Waco.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was planning a private service for agents Friday during a training seminar in Houston.
A decade later, among the survivors' lingering questions is why the ATF raided the compound instead of arresting Koresh during his jogs or trips into town. And why couldn't the ATF, with an undercover agent inside the compound until shortly before the raid, have planned better to prevent such an outcome?
Because of pending lawsuits, the ATF won't comment on the raid and the standoff's fiery end, said agency spokesman Andrew Lluberes.
Government officials said after the events and in subsequent congressional hearings that Koresh had been tipped off about the raid that morning. They say his followers starting shooting soon after agents pulled up in two cattle trucks and announced their intention to search for explosives and automatic firearms.
Cult members say they started firing only after law enforcement authorities did.
"There was no ambush" by Davidians, Doyle said. "The government said we knew 45 minutes before they got there, but if that was true, wouldn't they have all been shot while getting out of their cars?"
The religious group had been in the Waco area since shortly after it was formed in the 1930s by some Seventh-day Adventists. After a split in the late 1950s, the larger group became the Branch Davidians.
That sect split in 1984, and most of the group followed Koresh, whose real name was Vernon Howell. As more followers moved to the area, they built the large compound, which had two floors of sleeping quarters, an underground bunker, cafeteria, chapel, gym, swimming pool, water tank and observation tower.
Koresh called himself Christ and said all women on Earth were supposed to be his "wives." His preaching, which sometimes lasted 18 hours, focused on the biblical book of Revelation and the end of the world.
Koresh set meal times and assigned tasks but didn't force people to stay, some of his followers said.
"Nobody wanted to go because if you left, you were going to miss something you wanted to hear," said Catherine Matteson, 87, who survived the raid and left the compound a few days later.
Authorities had known about the weapons since 1987, when Koresh and others had a shootout with the son of the group's former leader. In the three years before the raid, police also heard reports that Koresh fathered babies with underage girls and physically abused children.
During the raid, ATF agents have said sect members sprayed them and their trucks with bullets. A man in the tower used a machine gun, while others had high-powered weapons and launched grenades, authorities have said.
ATF agents Conway LeBleu, 30, of Lake Charles, La.; Todd McKeehan, 28, of Mandeville, La.; Robert Williams, 26, of Brandon, Miss.; and Steven Willis, 32, of Houston were killed.
During cease-fire negotiations that day, those inside the compound agreed not to shoot as the slain and wounded agents were taken away.
Sixteen injured agents were taken to Waco's Hillcrest Baptist Medical Center, where the Rev. Curtis Holland counseled them and their grieving colleagues.
One agent "was crying bitterly, saying, `I couldn't shoot her. I couldn't shoot her,'" recalled Holland, former director of the hospital's chaplain program. "He was talking about children inside the room where bullets were coming out. It took a while for him to talk about the experience ... (of seeing) children actually firing guns."
After hearing the first shots, Doyle said, he ran down the hall and saw Koresh with a bloody hand. Koresh's father-in-law, Perry Jones, was crawling away from the door, saying he'd been shot in the stomach. Doyle and others helped Jones get to a bed, where he later died.
Doyle was rushing down another first-floor hallway when he saw the body of Winston Blake, who apparently had been sitting on his bed when gunfire came through his window.
"Water and glass were pouring into the room, and he was laying in a pool of water and blood," Doyle said.
JayDean Wendell, who had just handed her baby after breast-feeding to her oldest daughter, was shot and killed on the second floor. Peter Hitsman also was killed. Peter Gent was shot while cleaning the water tank outside.
Mike Schroeder had been working several miles away but was shot to death later that afternoon on adjacent property while trying to get back to his family in the compound.
Later that day, Doyle dug a large hole in the storm shelter to bury Perry, Blake, Wendell and Hitsman. Authorities agreed not to shoot while Doyle and others dug another hole outside and buried Gent. Schroeder's body was removed by agents.
Koresh, who recovered from bullet wounds to his hand and torso, arranged for Matteson and another woman to leave the compound with an audiotape of his teachings to be played on the radio.
Still, followers say they remained afraid even after the shooting stopped and negotiations started.
"It blew my mind. I thought, `Oh God, where did all these people come from?" said Doyle, now 62. "I thought they were going to regroup, come back the next day with more and slaughter us."
The end came 51 days later.
It's been nearly two years since Sandy Connizzo wrote her last letter demanding more details about the death of her youngest son, Michael Schroeder.
Schroeder, 29, was shot seven times by agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on Feb. 28, 1993, as he tried to make his way back into the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas, hours after a shootout left four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians dead. Inside were his wife, Kathy; their 3-year-old son, Bryan; and Kathy's other children, Scott, 12, Jake, 10, and Chrissy, 8.
Ten years later, Connizzo still doesn't have the answers she wants. But she's not as relentless about getting them anymore. In recent years, her focus has been on healing. Trying to forgive.
It's what Mike would have wanted, she said.
Kathy Schroeder, 41, has questions, too. But she said she believes she already knows the answers, and she's too busy trying to make ends meet and raising her children to push for a public truth. As a convicted felon, she said she probably wouldn't get much consideration, anyway.
The Schroeders, high school sweethearts from Zephyrhills, joined the Branch Davidians at their Mount Carmel compound in Texas in August 1989 after meeting David Koresh in Miami. Intrigued with his religious message, the couple packed up the family and followed Koresh to Waco.
Life was good there until Feb. 28, 1993, when ATF agents arrived to arrest Koresh and others on weapons charges. Shooting broke out, a standoff ensued, and 51 days later fire engulfed Mount Carmel as law enforcement tried to flush out those Davidians who hadn't surrendered.
A federal judge later cleared the government of any wrongdoing in the deaths of some 80 sect members, most killed during the fire.
Within days of the shootout that sparked the standoff, the Schroeder children emerged from the compound. Bryan came to Zephyrhills with Connizzo and her husband, Bill. The other three went to South Dakota to live with their father.
Kathy Schroeder left the compound March 12, 1993, and eventually agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for a more lenient sentence. She served about three years in prison for resisting arrest with a firearm, and then returned to the Tampa area for a reunion with Bryan.
Her daughter, Chrissy, came to live with her about five years ago. Jake arrived after finishing high school. Scott graduated and joined the Air Force.
There is a fourth child now, 4-year-old Kendall, from a relationship with a boyfriend. Schroeder waits tables to pay the bills.
Not a day goes by when she doesn't think about Mike, her best friend, her role model, the man who strummed a guitar and sang a marriage proposal from the parking garage roof at Tampa International Airport. Sweet and sensitive, he was loved by everyone.
The Missing Blue Cap
The two women who loved Mike Schroeder best know the public version of how he died, and some additional details law enforcement officials won't confirm.
He was living and working off the compound in an automobile repair shop the Davidians owned. When word of the shootout reached the shop, Schroeder took off with two other men to get back to their families.
They became separated at one point while crossing a field surrounding the compound and before encountering ATF agents, who later said Schroeder fired first with a handgun. As for the other two men, one was caught and arrested minutes after Schroeder was shot. The third was arrested days later.
A handful of Texas Rangers started investigating the scene but were pulled away by the FBI, who said they feared more gunfire from the compound. Connizzo scoffs at the rationale. She went to the spot where her son died and couldn't see the compound.
Schroeder's body lay in a small gully for four days. The blue wool cap he wore was missing.
Connizzo and her husband drove to Texas right after hearing the news of the shootout to get Bryan and find out about Mike. It took 10 days before Texas Rangers officially informed them of his death.
An autopsy documented seven bullet wounds on his body. Two were an inch apart on the side of his head, just above his right ear. Connizzo and others wonder about those wounds: How far away was the gun that fired the bullets? Was Mike on the ground, wounded but not dead, when they were inflicted?
She says her questions would be resolved by forensic testing of the wool cap. But for the next few years, as Connizzo pursued information and explanations, she was continually told nobody knew where the cap was.
Six years after Schroeder's death, a researcher for a documentary on Waco found a clear plastic bag with Schroeder's name on it while sifting through mountains of evidence in a storage warehouse. Inside was the wool cap.
The researcher, Mike McNulty, also discovered an incendiary tear gas canister, forcing FBI and other officials to admit they lied when they insisted that only nonincendiary tear gas was used while trying to force the Davidians from their compound April 19, 1993.
Connizzo fired off more letters, relentless telephone calls, asking for testing of the cap. To her knowledge, it's never been done.
A Mother Stands Alone
Kathy Schroeder often wishes she had left this life with her husband. Now, she said she believes she survived to take care of her children. They were the reason she left the compound and took the stand against her fellow Davidians. She's heard from some of them in the years since, and they've told her they understand why she did it.
She misses the structured life she had with Mike at Mount Carmel.
``Life was so much simpler when you knew where you stood with other people; they took care of each other,'' she said. ``Everything made sense there. Nothing makes sense out here. It's constant chaos.''
Bryan doesn't remember anything about those early years, and her other children don't talk about it. They do talk about Mike, though. They miss him. Bryan wishes he could have known his father the way his siblings did.
While her mother-in-law pursued answers, Kathy Schroeder left things alone.
``Even if they get that cap and test it, it's not going to do any good,'' she said. ``It won't make any difference.''
Connizzo still wants the cap tested. She still wants her son's personal belongings returned. But healing is more important now. That started with a decision to forgive. She's not sure she's done it completely, but it's enough to bring some measure of peace.
``The people who did wrong will have to answer to someone a whole lot bigger than me,'' Connizzo said. ``They have to live with it.''
She has a new, better relationship with God. Her definition of patriotism has changed. It's not blindly following whatever the government says or does; it's watching and questioning decisions and actions. She doesn't feel the urge to turn her back on the American flag anymore.
``That flag is bigger than the government,'' Connizzo said.
A look at the events, politics and those who were involved
Branch Davidians who left their Mount Carmel compound before it burned have returned to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and faraway corners of America.
A girl who testified before Congress about sexual abuse at the hands of sect leader David Koresh is now a college student acting out dramas on a stage in Michigan.
A woman who once handed out ammunition and weapons to Branch Davidian sentries during the government siege of the compound now waits tables in Florida.
And six followers of Koresh, three of whom stayed with him through the 51-day siege, now serve federal prison sentences in Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois and California. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons projects that each of the Branch Davidians, convicted on weapons and manslaughter charges, will be eligible for release in 2006 or 2007.
Although surviving players in the Branch Davidian saga have spread beyond Central Texas, Waco continues to bear the legacy of what happened at Mount Carmel a decade ago.
The court cases, the films, the investigations have answered some questions about what erupted about 10 miles east of Waco on Feb. 28, 1993. Other lessons reveal themselves more slowly.
For federal prisoner Jaime Castillo, now 34, arrested at the end of the siege, the years haven't destroyed his faith. In a letter to the Tribune-Herald, he says he remains "committed to the Branch Davidians who continue to believe on the Bible as taught by David Koresh."
He also continues to view the incident as one involving great injustices -- an opinion shared by many. "I do consider my friends to be martyrs," Castillo says. "I'm not sure they would have wanted to be considered as martyrs, but given that they did die for their beliefs, willingly or unwillingly, they definitely stood their ground against the injustices perpetuated against us."
For others viewing the events of 1993 from the sober perspective of history, the Branch Davidian saga was fraught with missteps on both sides. Koresh was later attacked as -- to quote the father of one underage House of David girl -- a "gun-toting, Bible-thumping pedophile." And by most accounts, federal officers only incited anti-government sentiments by failing to properly conduct the siege.
Compounding the tragedy, the Branch Davidian affair quickly became swept up in infighting on Capitol Hill.
"Unfortunately, the topic was held hostage by politics," says Stuart Wright, a Lamar University sociology professor who testified before Congress in 1995 on the siege. "The (National Rifle Association) got involved in it, allied with the Republicans, in congressional subcommittee hearings. And on the other side, the Democrats were defensive because the Republicans were going after (President) Clinton."
Wright's conclusion: "I'm not sure the evidence was ever looked at in an objective light."
The events at Mount Carmel a decade ago are easily summed up.
Agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms went to the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993, with an arrest warrant for Koresh and a search warrant for illegal weapons.
In the shootout that followed, four agents and five Branch Davidians died. Thus began a standoff that lasted 51 days, coming to a fiery conclusion in which 76 people perished.
For many years, the Branch Davidians had been viewed in McLennan County as a quirky, sometimes unstable, communal sect based on a stretch of prairie that followers called Mount Carmel.
But those at Mount Carmel became transfixed by David Koresh, 33, the mesmerizing, Houston-born doomsday prophet who claimed to be the next Christ.
In the year leading up to the siege, disenchanted former followers of Koresh raised louder and louder alarms about the child abuse and stockpiling of illegal weapons they said they witnessed at Mount Carmel.
Koresh garnered most of the criticism, partially because he claimed divine right to have sex with all women at the compound -- a privilege he sometimes extended to underage girls.
The most sympathetic figures in the Branch Davidian saga were the children. Twenty-one died during the April 1993 fire; according to DNA testing, Koresh was the father of 13 of them.
Others made it out before the ATF raid, or during the standoff.
Kiri Jewell, now 22, who caught the nation's attention with her 1995 testimony of Koresh's sexual abuse, is finishing her degree in political science and economics at a state university in Michigan. She recently acted in a civic theater production.
Scott Mabb, 11 when he left Mount Carmel, is now in the Air Force, following in the footsteps of his father.
And Landon Wendel, now 15, is working to become an Eagle Scout in Spokane, Wash.
The site today
Today, little more than debris remains of the compound on the 77-acre Mount Carmel property near the community of Elk. Sometimes a few Branch Davidians meet for the Saturday Bible studies held inside a chapel that the group built a few years ago with $93,000 raised by Austin radio host Alex Jones.
Branch Davidian Clive Doyle, 62, who lives nearby, leads the group in its afternoon Bible discussion, which typically lasts two to three hours. He uses a King James Bible.
About 100 Branch Davidians remain in the world, Doyle says. But he claims no interest in gathering them to live communally again. Besides, he says, he lacks the vigor, stamina and commanding presence to hold such a group together.
That Koresh could do so while he lived, Doyle says, is a testament to the man's inner strengths.
"As far as saying, 'Give up your houses and apartments and live out here with what little we have,' there's no guarantee they're going to do that," Doyle says of today's followers. "You've got to have some kind of force who takes control and also takes the flak when things don't work out. I'm just not leadership material."
Although federal officials might have won the battle of Mount Carmel, few escaped searing scrutiny over the operation. Much criticism was leveled at the ATF, an embattled agency in danger of extinction even before its leaders bungled through one of the worst days in law enforcement history.
Poor intelligence, flawed plans, suspect execution, errors in judgment, misleading statements, lies and cover-ups bedeviled the agency and toppled some of its leadership. But blame went beyond the ATF, tarnishing everyone from local officers to the FBI, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and President Clinton.
In the years just after the fire, Waco became a rallying cry for those distrustful of the government. Dozens of books and videos followed, as well as Web sites that closely followed Branch Davidian court cases and government investigations.
Many of them proffered definite points of view.
"It became a cottage industry," recalls Mike McNulty, who made two full-length documentaries and one short film critical of the government's actions at Mount Carmel. "Although they may not be able to articulate it, people know something is wrong. They know it when they see FBI officials driving heavily armored vehicles into a building, tanks in a building full of women and children."
McNulty's first film, "Waco: The Rules of Engagement," was nominated for an Oscar, won an Emmy and had two runs on HBO. Such acclaim, he says, is proof that the film's message went beyond the margins and reached into the mainstream.
And more Americans have become "appropriately distrusting of their government" since 1993, McNulty says.
"People that I've talked to that have seen the films come from a great cross-section," says McNulty, who lives in Colorado and is working on a lawsuit that ties Iraq to the Oklahoma City bomb- ings. "There are always those that are ultra-conservative, right-wing crazies. But I think they're way outnumbered, 100 to one, by just plain folks who saw it and found it to be disturbing."
Historian H.W. Brands, a Texas A&M-based writer and researcher, says the Mount Carmel events increased suspicion only among people who were already skeptical of the government.
"The so-called militia movements that developed in the '90s could point to Waco as evidence that government has this grand desire to crush the freedoms of the American people," he says. "Frankly, though, that idea never really caught on with the American people at large."
One reason the events had limited traction, Brands says, is that Americans were busy in the 1990s watching the technology boom and the growth of the stock market. He also says the Branch Davidians weren't sympathetic characters to most Americans, in large part because of the stories of abuse inside the compound.
Meanwhile, the siege generated little in the way of sizeable, bona fide political movements.
"When historians are writing history books 60 years from now, 100 years from now, I'd be quite surprised if any of them mention Waco and the Branch Davidians," Brands says. "It was an event that made news at the time, but it didn't make any lasting connection in American life."
Leaving a mark
While other major events soon moved into the headlines, the Branch Davidians' legacy proved lasting for Waco. Local residents who knew little, if anything, about the sect before February 1993 found themselves defending the city from the stigma the incident created.
"Everybody got a black eye," recalls Paul Stripling, executive director of the Waco Baptist Association. "Some thought we were part of the Branch Davidians or the Seventh-day Adventists. They put us all in one salad."
Stripling still cannot preach out of state without hearing mention of the Branch Davidians. In a London train station last year, a man got up and changed benches because he heard Stripling say he was from Waco.
A popular complaint voiced in the growing city of 113,000 is that Waco hasn't garnered nearly the same fame for President Bush's Crawford ranch, which sits about 25 miles from the city.
Ten years after the Mount Carmel siege, some Waco residents remain hopeful that time will finally weaken the public's connection between the city and the Branch Davidians.
"For a five-year period, anytime I talked with anybody who knew I was from Waco, the Branch Davidian connection was made," says businessman Curtis Cleveland, an industry recruiter for the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce at the time of the siege. "But recently, I was in Pasadena, California, and we brought up the subject, and we had to remind the people there who David Koresh was.
"It was comforting to see that the memory is going away."
Stepping into an elevator at a hotel here, David Koresh's mother lit up at the sight of the toddler peering up from a stroller. "She's so precious," she told the baby's mother in her soft Texas drawl.
Bonnie Haldeman lost David, a daughter-in-law and 13 grandchildren in a single horrific fire one day 10 years ago. They were among about 80 Branch Davidians killed when their Mount Carmel compound in Waco, Texas, burned to the ground after a federal assault that sought to end a 51-day siege. Koresh was their leader.
Three of the children belonged to Koresh and his wife, Rachel. The others were Koresh's by other women in the Branch Davidian community.
"He said they were God's children; he was raising God's perfect children for, I don't know -- something," Haldeman said after a morning of arguments in federal court.
Haldeman and others who lost family members in the assault sued the federal government for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, but lost in a lower court. They were in New Orleans this week to argue an appeal before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Some of the things Koresh taught his mother about the Bible went over her head, Haldeman said. And some things he did she still struggles with. But she says her son was "anointed," led by a God who shared things with him.
In any case, the children were real, and lovely, and she doubts she will ever recover from the loss of them.
Haldeman was and remains a Branch Davidian, having been mentored by a precocious son who immersed himself in Scripture as a boy and in time became his mother's teacher.
After the fire, benefactors rebuilt a small chapel on the Mount Carmel grounds for the group's remaining members. They still gather there regularly, Haldeman said.
Haldeman and many of the relatives of those killed say they still believe federal authorities triggered the disastrous events.
They say agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms fired the first shots Feb. 28 in an assault on the compound that left four agents and six Davidians dead. They say the federal attempt to end the siege started the fires.
The government inquiry into the FBI's actions declared with "100 percent certainty" that Koresh and his followers set the fires that destroyed the compound. They said a number of the victims, including some children, had died of gunshots, suggesting either murder or suicide. And they said investigators found illegal weapons in the ruins, in support of authorities' initial claims.
Haldeman feels no bitterness toward the federal agents who surrounded Mount Carmel: "I feel sorry for the agents who lost their lives, and their families, because I'm in the same boat. God is the judge of all of us. "
NEW ORLEANS - Lawyers for Branch Davidians and their families pushing a wrongful death case against the government appeared to make little headway Monday with their argument that a judge who previously dismissed their case was biased.
An appeals judge repeatedly pressed Davidian lawyer Michael Caddell on his claim that remarks made by the lower-court judge demonstrated antagonism toward the religious sect that clashed with federal authorities in 1993.
"Is that what you are hanging your hat on, three statements over the course of a trial?" said Judge Edith Jones of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The survivors' wrongful death case was dismissed in September 2000 when U.S. District Judge Walter Smith backed the federal contention that agents had not used excessive force in their tear-gas assault. Smith found that the Davidians themselves set the fire that killed nearly 80 men, women and children.
The Davidians are seeking a new trial in front of a different judge.
Judge Smith's "hostility toward these people, which you could almost feel, showed that the possibility of a fair trial was not possible," said former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, a longtime champion of libertarian causes who was in court to argue for the Davidians.
Jones at one point cut Clark short, urging him to "summarize the major legal points" of his case.
Despite the sharp handling from Jones, Clark declared himself "an optimist by nature" after the hearing.
"I felt it went very, very well," said Bonnie Haldeman, mother of the late Davidian leader David Koresh, and who was also in court. She said she lost 13 grandchildren in the Waco fire.
The case was brought on behalf of the estates of 14 children who died in the fire, a 15-year-old girl who was badly burned and three parents whose children died in the blaze.
Government lawyers dismiss the Davidians' bias claims.
"To the contrary, Judge Smith displayed patience and diligence wading through enormously complicated legal and factual claims and gradually winnowing down the issues for trial," they said in their brief.
On Feb. 28, 1993, federal agents stormed the Branch Davidian compound looking for stockpiled automatic weapons and hand grenades. Four federal agents and three Davidians were killed in the clash.
For 51 days, the government attempted to get the cult followers to come out. On April 19, agents fired tear-gas rounds into the compound and fire consumed it. Koresh was among scores of Davidians who died.
It was a brutal and ultimately deadly confrontation that transfixed the nation for weeks in the spring of 1993: government agents facing off against a fanatic cult leader and his followers in Waco, Texas.
Nearly 10 years after the fire that ended the standoff and killed Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and scores of his disciples, survivors and their families are still pushing claims against the federal government.
On Monday, they're scheduled to make a last-ditch effort before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here, seeking to have the judge removed from their wrongful-death lawsuit and asking for a new trial. In September 2000 in Waco, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith dismissed the lawsuit, backing the federal contention that agents had not used excessive force in their tear-gas assault on the cult compound. Smith found that the Davidians themselves set the fire that killed nearly 80 men, women and children.
Monday's appeal arguments are being made on behalf of the estates of 14 children who died in the fire, a 15-year-old girl who was badly burned and three parents whose children died in the blaze.
The Davidians, whose beliefs encompass fierce hostility against the government, say Smith's rulings in related cases, and comments on and off the bench, betray "deep-seated antagonism" and "preconceptions" against them. They say he expressed "negative characterizations" of them, including calling one Branch Davidian follower "crazy" and a murderer.
Government lawyers dismiss the bias claims.
"To the contrary, Judge Smith displayed patience and diligence wading through enormously complicated legal and factual claims and gradually winnowing down the issues for trial," they say in their brief.
A lawyer for the Davidians, James Juranek, acknowledged that the odds are against him in court. Appeals such as his are "granted less often than they are denied," he said.
On Feb. 28, 1993, federal agents stormed the Branch Davidian compound looking for stockpiled automatic weapons and hand grenades. Four federal agents and three Davidians were killed in the clash.
For 51 days, the government attempted to get the cult followers to come out. On April 19, agents fired tear-gas rounds into the compound and fire consumed it.
80 Men, Women, Children Died In Incident
DALLAS -- Almost 10 years after a fiery raid near Waco, Texas, surviving Branch Davidians and their families want a new trial for their civil suit against the government.
A U.S. appeals court in New Orleans will hear their arguments Monday. The Davidians lost a $675 million wrongful-death lawsuit more than two years ago.
After a trial in 2000, an advisory jury that heard the lawsuit concluded the government wasn't responsible for the deaths of some 80 men, women and children.
They died when the Davidians' complex near Waco burned to the ground in 1993, after an armored federal assault. Based on the jury's recommendation, a U.S. district judge ruled against the Davidians.
Attorneys for the Branch Davidians said judicial bias made a fair trial impossible.
A FORMER Australian government worker has won control of the Branch Davidians' Texas compound that was the scene of a violent 1993 stand-off with US authorities in which more than 80 sect members and their children were killed.
Melbourne-born Davidian Clive Doyle, a former federal currency printer, learnt several weeks ago he had won the battle for the near desolate property, outside Waco, that he has lived on since the late 1960s.
Several factions within the dwindling ranks of the sect, once headed by "messiah"' David Koresh, had fought Mr Doyle for three years through the courts for control of the 180ha property.
Mr Doyle, whose daughter died in a fire that broke out after US marshalls raided the compound searching for arms, fought the two factions in a federal court trial that ended in a hung jury last year.
The factions, under the direction of the judge, had until last month to refile their suit to thwart control of the compound going to Mr Doyle, who has been paying land taxes.
The 61-year-old, once a deputy to Koresh, who died in the fire, said both factions had failed to meet the legal deadline &Mac246; a decision that recognised him as the "rightful owner" of the property.
Now a manager of a health food store, Mr Doyle said he still preached every Saturday to a permanent but "small flock" of about 15 Davidians who remained faithful to Koresh's teachings.
"We have rebuilt the chapel, and one day hope to rebuild the entire centre," he said.
"The Davidians have long owned the property and I run the place out of my trailer as the leader.
"There are not as many church members as there once were, but we still have people coming from all over the world to visit with us."
Mr Doyle was one of five adult Australians who with their seven children were involved in the 51-day siege, in which several agents were killed or wounded.
Four of the Australians, including Mr Doyle's 18-year-old daughter Shari, died in the fire that broke out when agents stormed the compound.
Another Victorian, Graham Craddock, is serving a 15-year jail sentence.
Mr Doyle was found not guilty on gun charges and of conspiring to kill a federal agent.
As part of a two-week program on religious freedom, a group of Russian delegates visited the site of one of the most notorious church-state showdowns in U.S. history Friday.
The group visited the site of the Branch Davidian compound on a tour led by Baylor University officials.
"This is history. Unfortunately, this is sort of what identifies Waco in the minds of most people," said Derek Davis, director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor. "This is a part of the religious history of the United States."
Then-Davidian leader David Koresh and 75 followers died the morning of April 19, 1993, after a fire swept through their compound at Mount Carmel. The fire was preceded by a 51-day standoff which began after a gunfight between Davidians and ATF agents on Feb. 28, 1993. The agents were trying to arrest Koresh for owning automatic weapons. A small chapel was built on the site in 2000 and the group continues to have worship services there.
Davis said the trip brought up discussions about the government's role in relation to a group that is accused of breaking the law.
"In many ways, I think of this as kind of a lesson in mistakes that a government can make about how you treat a group like this," he said. "(The Davidians) should have been investigated, without question, but it should not have ended up in a large conflagration with ... people being killed. It shouldn't have happened that way. So we learned some hard lessons."
The Russian delegates were a mix of scholars, religious leaders and government workers. They will be responsible for helping ensure religious freedom in their country, Davis said.
Managed by the Center for Russian Leadership Development at the Library of Congress, the "Open World" program gives Russian leaders an introduction to American democratic and economic institutions in U.S. communities.
At Baylor, the delegates attended seminars that addressed Russian church-state issues, such as church property and registration. They also discussed the future of religious freedom in Russia.
Although Russia is a democracy, the government still requires church groups to officially register.
Davis said there is some prejudice against smaller congregations in the Russian Orthodox-dominated religious landscape. It can be a trial to even rent out building space for a small Baptist or Mennonite group to hold services, he said.
"Some people get the impression that in this new democratic Russia, it's just like it is here, complete freedom," Davis said. "It's not true."
Tatiana Tomaeva, who works at the non-governmental Institute for Religion and Law in Moscow, said sometimes the government still tries to impose religions that are traditional in various parts of the country.
"By law, it is not supposed to do so, but in fact, they do," Tomaeva said.
The group also visited Washington, D.C. and Salt Lake City, Utah, before coming to Waco on the last leg of the trip.
While in Waco, the group visited Homestead Heritage, a group of a few hundred people who live communally on 350 acres outside Chalk Bluff, about 10 miles north of Waco.
The Heritage congregation has been compared to the Mennonites. Theyve actually only been around for 25 years, but the roots of their creed go back to the Anabaptists whose members were part of the Reformation movement of the 16th century.
It's something that would have a hard time getting started in Russia, delegates say.
"People can exercise their religion freely (in the United States) and no one really cares what they believe and what they do unless they break the law," Tomaeva said.
That conflict weighed on everyone's mind as they read markers and listened to a brief history lesson about the events of early 1993.
"I just think that there was something here, a building and people lived here and now its kind of a desert," Tomaeva said. "No one's here."
NEW ORLEANS -- Branch Davidians and their families have appealed the dismissal of their $675 million wrongful death lawsuit over the 1993 federal assault on the sect's Waco compound.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs accused U.S. District Judge Walter Smith of bias against the Branch Davidians and their leader, David Koresh.
Koresh was among some 80 men, women and children killed after the Davidians' complex burned to the ground April 19, 1993, after an armored federal assault. The assault capped a 51-day siege that began with a raid by federal agents that killed four agents and six Davidians.
Smith dismissed the lawsuit in 2000, agreeing with an advisory jury that concluded the government was not responsible for the deaths.
In a 125-page brief filed Monday with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, the plaintiffs say Smith was involved in the initial raid from its planning stages and he manipulated and excluded evidence.
Smith did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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