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"Agent Says He Tried to Rescue Davidians"

by Eric Lichtblau ("LA Times", July 14, 2000)

WACO, Texas--Lawyers defending the government in the $675-million Branch Davidian lawsuit rested their case on an emotional note Thursday as an FBI agent recounted how he carried a woman out of the sect's burning compound but was unable to locate any of the children trapped inside.
After a month of testimony revisiting the tragedy at the Davidians' Mount Carmel compound in 1993, a five-member jury will hear closing arguments in the case this morning before beginning deliberations.
But the lead attorney for the Davidian plaintiffs enters the trial's final phase with deflated expectations after a decision by the judge late Thursday on the instructions he will give the jury, which is acting in an unusual advisory-only capacity.
"I would say that it basically ignores the law," attorney Michael Caddell said after scanning U.S. District Judge Walter Smith's instructions.
Caddell said that the instructions hurt his case by lumping all the Davidians into a single group, rather than distinguishing between leaders such as David Koresh and teenage followers, and by asking the jury to determine whether the sect as a whole had culpability.
He suggested that the judge is trying to "engineer a verdict" through his loose reading of the law.
The relatives of the Davidians killed at Mount Carmel, along with several survivors, are trying to show that the government bears part of the responsibility for the tragic outcome. They maintain that federal agents used reckless attacks in the shootout with the Davidians that started the siege and the 51-day standoff that followed. About 80 sect members died in the conflagration on the last day.
But the government's final witness, FBI agent Jim McGee, said on the stand Thursday that he was willing to risk his life for sect members.
McGee was operating one of the government's tanks on April 19, 1993, the final day of the standoff, seeking to punch holes in the compound walls and launch tear gas canisters inside to force out the occupants.
But fire broke out--a fire set, the government maintains, by Koresh and his followers in a mass suicide. McGee said that, when he spotted a woman jumping from the second floor of the compound and landing near flames below, he left his tank to help her and to try to find others inside.
"Where are the children?" McGee remembered yelling.
But the woman, Ruth Riddle, who later served several years in prison for her role in the Davidian standoff, would not answer, McGee said, and she struggled as he tried to get her out of the building. "She was resistant. She said, 'No, leave me alone,' " he said.
He carried her to safety away from the building, he said, but he regretted not having been able to locate any of the more than 20 children--some infants--who died inside.
"If she'd told me [where they were], I would have gone in after the children or died trying," said McGee, his voice choked with emotion.
A government lawyer asked McGee, who was later given an FBI medal of honor for his actions, why he was willing to risk his life.
"I went into the compound because the motto of [the FBI's] Hostage Rescue Team is servare vitas--that means to save lives."
Davidian attorneys spent the final day of testimony pressing their contention that the government's plans at Mount Carmel were woefully inadequate to handle the type of fire that broke out that day.
But U.S. Atty. Michael Bradford said that it was not for lack of trying by agents such as McGee.
"What that shows," he said of McGee's testimony, "is the kind of people who were out there for the FBI that day."

"The case before the jury"

("Dallas Morning News", July 14, 2000)

U.S. District Judge Walter Smith will ask jurors to answer unanimously a four-step series of questions to reach a verdict in the Branch Davidian wrongful-death lawsuit:
1. Did the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms use excessive force when its agents tried to serve search and arrest warrants on Feb. 28, 1993, at the sect's compound? In particular, did agents fire at the compound either indiscriminately or without provocation in the gunbattle that broke out?
2. Did the FBI act negligently in any of the following ways during its teargassing operation on April 19, 1993:
A. By driving tanks into the building in ways that violated the Washington-approved gassing plan?
B. By starting or contributing to the spread of the fire?
C. By deciding not to have any plan to fight any fire that might break out, despite a directive from Attorney General Janet Reno to have "sufficient emergency vehicles"?
If jurors answer yes to ATF or FBI negligence, they must then answer a third set of questions about the Branch Davidians:
3. Did the government prove "by a preponderance of the evidence" that Davidians acted negligently in:
A. Resisting the ATF agents who were trying to serve arrest and search warrants, and continuing their resistance until the siege ended on April 19?
B. Setting fire to the compound?
4. If jurors answer yes to ATF or FBI negligence, what percentage of that negligence is attributable to the FBI and what percentage is attributable to the government?
Special instructions
The jury's instructions on how to answer those questions include the following from Judge Walter Smith: Plaintiffs must prove each any every claim by a preponderance of evidence, or by evidence that "persuades you that the plaintiff's claim is more likely true than not true." Law enforcement officers can use as much force as reasonably necessary to complete a search or arrest, can protect themselves from someone resisting arrest, including taking the lives of those who pose serious bodily threats.
The government is not claiming that Davidians were negligent in failing to leave the compound during the 51 days standoff. "However, you may consider .... evidence that plaintiffs continued to resist the execution of the search and arrest warrants between Feb. 28, 1993, and April 19, 1993, in deciding the issue of whether the FBI negligently prevented or hindered them from leaving the compound.
"There are certain aspects of what happened. ... which are not submitted for your consideration in this case. For example, there has been a public debate in the years following the incident as to whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms should have attempted to execute the search and arrest warrants in a less forceful manner. Congress, however, in authorizing this type of lawsuit against the government, prohibited courts from second-guessing law enforcement decisions such as this. There may be other matters of concern to you which you are not asked about for the same reason."
The government contends that the Davidians were negligent in their actions "and also committed intentional acts and crimminal acts that were the actual cause of these allegations." The government must prove that by a preponderance of evidence.
When considering that allegation, jurors are told that search and arrest warrants on Feb. 28 were lawful, and citizens violate the law when they resist law enforcement officials trying to execute such warrants. Individuals can use force to resist only they believe they must protect themselves after a law enforcement officer has attempted to use greater force than necessary.
Like any other individuals, the Davidians had to look out for their own safety just as much as any other reasonably prudent person.
"You need to consider whether the actions of any of the adult plaintiffs in Mt. Carmel" in resisting arrest on Feb. 28 and setting fires on April 19 "proximately caused the harm" that injured any of the Davidians in the lawsuit.

"Sect lawyer says judge ignoring law"

by Lee Hancock (" The Dallas Morning News", July 14, 2000)

WACO - A plaintiff's attorney complained Thursday that a federal judge appeared to be "ignoring the law" and trying to "engineer a verdict" favorable to the government as both sides finished presenting evidence in the Branch Davidian wrongful-death lawsuit.
Michael Caddell of Houston told reporters that the judge's written instructions and questions for the advisory jury unfairly lump the Davidians together as a group instead of allowing separate consideration of the death or injuries and actions or negligence of each individual in the case.
"I think the jury may surprise the judge. I think that the judge would like to engineer a verdict," Mr. Caddell said on the steps of the federal courthouse in Waco. "I think we can get a jury verdict anyway. But it's clear that he doesn't want a verdict with respect to anyone 17 or older that will be inconsistent with what he wants to do."
Lead government attorney Mike Bradford said he had not carefully reviewed the instructions to be read on Friday after jurors hear closing arguments. But he said they appeared to cover "all of the issues. It seems to be fair."
He and other attorneys defending the government against the sect's $675 million lawsuit had conceded in their proposed instructions submitted to the court earlier this week that jurors would individually consider the actions and injuries of each .
But Mr. Bradford noted Thursday that federal law dictates that judges alone decide civil lawsuits against federal government agencies. If the judge uses his discretion to bring in a jury to advise him, he said, he can use that same power to decide what questions he wants answered.
"It seems to cover all of the issues," he said. "I think he has a great deal of latitude ... he can either rule for us or against us regardless of what this advisory jury finds." The jury interrogatory asks a four-part series of questions about how the government handled the 1993 standoff, which ended in a fire that killed more than 80 Branch Davidians.
Plaintiffs' attorneys in the wrongful death trial have charged that agents from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms used excessive force when a gunbattle broke out as they tried to search the compound and arrest sect leader David Koresh on weapons charges Feb. 28, 1993.
They have also alleged that the FBI exceeded a Washington-approved tear-gas plan and helped touch off the compound fire when they tried to force a surrender on April 19, 1993.
Government lawyers have disputed each charge, countering that sect members ambushed ATF agents and then deliberately torched their building in a mass suicide ordered by their self-proclaimed messiah, Mr. Koresh.
To decide the case, jurors will be asked:
First, did ATF agents use excessive force or fire indiscriminately when a gunbattle broke out on Feb. 28?
Then, did FBI agents act negligently, specifically violating a Washington-approved plan, when they sent tanks deep into the compound during an April 19, 1993, tear gas assault? Did the tanks cause or spread the fire that broke out, and did FBI commanders commit negligence when they decided beforehand that they wouldn't bring in fire trucks or even try to fight any blaze that day?
If government agents were in any way negligent, were the Davidians also negligent in starting fires or failing to submit to government authorities beginning Feb. 28, and continuing through April 19?
An accompanying 18-page set of instructions tells jurors how to consider those questions. It warns that they can't sonsider controversies such as whether the ATF operation was poorly planned or should've been canceled when commanders learned that the sect was tipped off just before the raid.
But it says they can consider the Branch Davidians' decision to resist federal authorities when they weigh the question of whether the FBI "negligently prevented or hindered them from leaving the compound."
The jurors also will be told that they can consider whether "any of the adult plaintiffs in Mount Carmel" contributed to or "proximately caused" the sect's injuries and deaths.
Judge Smith's decision to have jurors consider the Branch Davidians as a group appears to be a shift from his explanation of the case during jury selection.
During that June 19 proceeding, he told prospective jurors: "There are a number of plaintiffs in this case ...and they have to be viewed individually in a lot of respects. Some of them were small children. Some of them were older children. Some of them were aged adults. And you'll learn that there was a different standard to use for different aged persons in determining whether or not something they did was negligent."
When one member of the jury panel asked for more explanation, the judge responded, "You can't treat all of the plaintiffs as one single group. You have to treat them as individuals."
After leaving court Thursday, Mr. Caddell said he was disturbed that the judge did not instruct the jury that they could not consider suicide as a defense if the government's actions helped cause the suicide. He said Texas state law requires such an instruction, and the federal law that allows lawsuits against the government requires a judge to apply the civil laws of a state where the lawsuit is filed.
Autopsy reports
Earlier Thursday, lawyers for both sides recited autopsy reports of those who died in Mount Carmel. A government lawyer told jurors that 20 people - four of them children - died from gunshot wounds to the head or chest, and another child was stabbed to death.
Plaintiffs' lawyers then presented autopsy evidence that nine of those victims suffered extensive smoke inhalation before they died, and an additional nine Branch Davidian women and children were buried alive and suffocated by falling debris. Another 14 died of burns or smoke inhalation.
Mr. Caddell said he was also highly concerned that the jury charge did not consider each individual's case separately, or ask jurors to weigh only that individual's actions when considering whether they or the government were in any way negligent.
He said that unfairly "lumps" women and children together with men who were known to be shooting guns on Feb. 28 and may have been involved in setting fires on April 19.
"He doesn't separate the children," Mr. Caddell said. "I guess I wonder if he thinks that a two-year-old is a Davidian. ... He's saying is that Aisha Gyarfas Summers, who was 17 years old and under the law in Texas is an adult, should be treated the same as David Koresh.
"We asked that the rights of each claimant be deteremined on an indivdiual basis - which is what the law requires, which is what the judge told the jury they were going to be asked to do," Mr. Caddell said. "This will be good evidence to somebody that this judge is not following the law."
Mr. Caddell conceded that his criticism of the judge in a pending case was unusual.
"But I've never had an experience like this. I've never had a judge ignore such clear law. He's ignoring the law that even the government cited in their brief. He's ignoring law that he applied in [an earlier ATF] case arising from the siege."
ATF agents were paid a $15 million out-of-court settlement in 1996 by the Wace Tribune Herald, Waco TV station KWTX, and a local ambulance company after Judge Smith in an April 1996 ruling wrote that the media was aware that the sect was heavily armed and potentially dangerous and should have forseen how their actions endangered ATF agents. Four ATF agents died on Feb. 28.
But the judge's jury charge includes no instructions that FBI commanders had been warned of the possible danger of sending tanks deep into the building on April 19.
Documents offered during the trial showed that commanders were repeatedly warned by FBI experts that the sect would respond violently to such actions.
The judge presented his jury charge to both sides late Thursday afternoon.
They will hear it Friday after each side offers their hour-and-a-half closing arguments.
Agent's testimony Earlier Thursday, the government closed its defense with emotional testimony from an FBI agent who raced into the burning compound to save a sect member who had returned to the inferno.
James McGee, a Hostage Rescue Team member, recalled Davidian Ruth Riddle going back into the building after jumping from a second story, and then trying to fight him off and telling him to leave her alone when he went in to pull her out.
"I found her about 8 to 12 feet inside laying on the floor, laying facedown," said Mr. McGee, who had to ask for a moment to compose himself before describing his actions that day. "She was resistant and said, 'No, leave me alone.'"
When asked why he went in, Agent McGee said: "I went into the compound because the motto of the Hostage Rescue Team is 'servari vitas.' That means to save lives."
The agent said Ms. Riddle turned her head and did not answer when he asked repeatedly for the location of the sect's children. "If she had told me, I would have went after the children or died trying," he said.
In a brief rebuttal, plaintiffs' lawyers read a portion of the deposition of FBI hostage rescue team commander Richard Rogers. Mr. Rogers confirmed that he and the overall onsite Waco commanders decided not try to fight any fires that might break out during the April 19 tear-gassing operation. Byt But Mr.
Rogers also said the situation was "too risky."
Plaintiff's Plaintiffs' lawyers also played portions of an FBI surveilance tape in which Branch Davidians could be clearly heard describing how one of the six sect members killed on Feb. 28 were shot from a government helicopter. ATF agents and pilots of the helicopters have all testified that none of the aircraft used in the raid were armed and no shots were fired from them Feb. 28.

"Government ends case in Davidian trial"

by Tommy Witherspoon ("Waco Tribune Herald", July 14, 2000)

An FBI agent who pulled a Branch Davidian from the flames of Mount Carmel testified Thursday that he was willing to die trying to rescue the children if he had been able to determine where they were during the fire.
The government brought its defense of a $675 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by Branch Davidian survivors to a close with the emotional testimony of FBI agent Jim McGee, who was awarded a medal of valor for his actions on April 19, 1993.
Plaintiffs' attorneys, who blame the government for the deaths of sect leader David Koresh and 75 of his followers, including 21 children, also closed out their case Thursday.
Attorneys will present final summations this morning to U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. and five advisory jurors, who have absorbed almost four weeks of testimony and reviewed thousands of exhibits during the complex trial. Jurors could begin deliberations by noon.
McGee, 43, from New Orleans, lowered his head and paused before answering as government attorney Matt Zabel asked him about his dramatic rescue of Branch Davidian Ruth Ottman Riddle, who jumped from a second-floor window and then ran back into the inferno.
"I'd like people to understand that this is a very emotional situation for me," McGee said, his voice cracking.
McGee said he fired 96 non-military tear-gas rounds into the compound from a Bradley tank during the government's attempts to drive the Branch Davidians from the building. He testified that he abandoned the safety of the military vehicle when he saw Riddle hit the ground hard and then return to the building.
He said he went inside the compound about 8 to 12 feet and saw her lying face-down on the floor. He said he shook her and she turned and said, "Who are you?" He said he told her who he was and then asked where the children were.
He said she told him to leave her alone and resisted his efforts to get her out of the building, which McGee estimated was 75 percent engulfed in wind-whipped flames at the time.
He said he carried her outside and behind the tank, where he and FBI agent Bob Hunt, a paramedic, examined her briefly before loading her into the tank.
Zabel asked McGee why he went inside the burning, unstable structure to get her.
"I went inside because the motto of the Hostage Rescue Team is Servare Vitas .. That means 'to save lives,'" McGee said.
McGee said he had two objectives when he went into the building - to save Riddle and to find out from her where the children were.
"If she had told me, I would have gone after the children or died trying," he said.
Autopsy reports from 21 Davidians that government attorneys put into evidence Thursday showed that 20 of them, including Koresh and several children, died from gunshot wounds to the head or chest. Koresh was shot in the forehead, according to the reports. One toddler died from a stab wound to the chest.
The government presented the findings as additional evidence that sect members started the fires and killed themselves to fulfill Koresh's apocalyptic prophesies.
Jurors will be asked today to determine if agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms used excessive force Feb. 28, 1993, when they stormed Mount Carmel to arrest Koresh on weapons charges.
The plaintiffs have alleged that the ATF was negligent by firing indiscriminately and without provocation during the raid in which four agents and five Branch Davidians were killed.
The government claims that the ATF was ambushed by Koresh and his followers, who had learned of the raid, and were merely shooting back in self-defense.
Also, jurors must determine if the FBI was negligent on April 19, 1993, when it began its tear-gas assault to try to end the 51-day siege. The plaintiffs allege that the FBI deviated from an approved plan to insert the tear gas gradually and began an early demolition of the building with the tanks; that the FBI started or contributed to the spread of the fire; and that they had no plan to fight a fire despite Attorney General Janet Reno's directive to have "sufficient emergency vehicles" ready to respond.
The jury also will be asked to decide if the government proved that the Davidians acted negligently by resisting arrest on Feb. 28, by continuing to do so through April 19 and by setting fire to the compound.
The verdict form asks jurors to determine a percentage of negligence attributable to the FBI and the Davidians.
The charge to the jury upset the calm demeanor that has marked lead plaintiffs' attorney Mike Caddell's court performance. He was frustrated that Smith didn't differentiate between the Davidian men, women and children in his jury instructions - which only refer to the Davidians.
At first, Caddell tried joking about the charge.
"Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" Caddell said to reporters.
He grew more fretful, however, the more questions he was asked about it.
"What he's doing is saying that Aisha Gyarfas Summers who was 17 years old and an adult under the law in Texas should be treated the same as David Koresh," Caddell said. "I think that's not only a mistake under the law, but it's also a mistake given the facts of the case. It's unfortunate."
Caddell said there is no evidence that any of the women fired a weapon on the day of the initial raid.
"But the charge submitted dumps the women in with the men," Caddell said.
The charge to the jury did not include standard jury instructions in Texas regarding suicide, Caddell said.
Caddell told reporters that if he was surrounded by fire, a "child next to me screaming in agony and his or her skin rolling off," he would grab a weapon and "put that child out of his misery and then do the same for myself."
Caddell's frustration boiled over at the end of the press conference.
"I think Judge Smith is trying to engineer...," Caddell said, before stopping himself. "I don't know. I hope this is simply a result of the judge being too busy to read the briefs we submitted to him. I trust once he reads the law, he'll follow it."
Asked if the charge formulated the basis for an appeal, Caddell said, "If the judge issues a ruling saying the Davidians started the fire, he will be reversed. No question about it." U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford, lead co-counsel for the government, said he didn't have any problem with Smith's jury charge.
"It's the way the case was presented by both sides," Bradford said. "... I think the questions asked are fine and proper for an advisory jury. I don't think they form any basis for an appeal."
He said Smith has wide latitude with the jury given that it's an advisory jury, whose advice he's not bound to follow.
Smith has indicated that he probably will wait to issue a final judgment until he reaches a decision on whether government agents fired at the compound April 19. That ruling is expected later this summer.

"Davidian door may swing two ways; both sides in trial use it as evidence"

by Mark England ("Waco Tribune Herald", July 14, 2000)

It could be argued that one witness was on the stand for the last nine days of the Branch Davidians' $675 million wrongful-death lawsuit against the government.
A battered, partially peeled metal door, its insulation exposed, that was shot at and run over by a tank has been propped up next to the defense table since the government introduced it into evidence June 29. It's half of the front door that stood at Mount Carmel during the siege.
What it's testimony to is debatable.
Both the government and the plaintiffs believe it bears witness to who ignited the deadly siege that ended in the deaths of David Koresh and 75 followers.
Perhaps that's understandable given that a door has two sides.
To the government, the left side of the front door states clearly that bullets were flying both ways on Feb. 28, 1993, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided Mount Carmel to arrest Koresh for possession of automatic weapons. Four ATF agents and five Davidians died in the ensuing shoot-out.
However, the plaintiffs argue that the door's appearance at the trial raised more questions than it provided answers.
"Every day someone looks at that door and it raises questions about the other half," said Mike Caddell, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. "That survived the fire. Why didn't the other one survive? I think leaving it in plain view was a huge mistake. They'll hear about it tomorrow."
Government co-counsel Michael Bradford said leaving the door in the courtroom "wasn't an intentional move."
"All evidence, once it's admitted, has to remain in the courtroom," Bradford said.
"The judge told us to keep everything in there."
Bradford downplayed the door's influence as evidence in a case that should go to the advisory jury today.
"I doubt it had an effect one way or the other," Bradford said.
The plaintiffs believe the missing right side of the door would have testified to the Davidians' version of what happened at the start of the ATF raid: Koresh opened the door to warn approaching ATF agents there were women and children inside Mount Carmel and was greeted by gunfire.
Government attorneys introduced the door as evidence after the testimony of Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, who represented Koresh during the siege.
DeGuerin talked about checking out the right side of the front door while visiting Mount Carmel.
"All the bullet holes I saw had smooth edges from bullets coming from the outside," DeGuerin testified.
"Ever see the front door again?" Caddell asked.
"I've asked about it many times," DeGuerin said.
Caddell later showed jurors a photograph of the front door taken during the siege. The right side appeared peppered with bullet holes.
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. barred the plaintiffs from introducing testimony from a Department of Public Safety officer who claimed to have seen FBI agents carrying off something resembling a door just before the Texas Rangers began their investigation of the Mount Carmel fire.
Both sides asked ATF agent Kris Mayfield to count the number of bullets in the remaining half of the door. Mayfield counted four incoming and ten outgoing bullet holes.
"A little worse for wear," Caddell said to Mayfield. "It didn't look like that on Feb. 28, did it?"
"No, sir," Mayfield said.
Even the departure of Mayfield and DeGuerin from the witness stand didn't close the door on the subject. It popped up several more times during the trial. Caddell, for example, asked Texas Rangers Lt. James Miller, who investigated the Mount Carmel fire, about the door.
"This is steel and metal?" Caddell asked. "You can imagine what that fire did to flesh, couldn't you?"
"Yes, sir," Miller said.
Caddell asked Miller if it was embarrassing for the Rangers to recover only half of the front door.
"I would certainly say that if there was a second door there to be collected, we would have collected it," Miller said. "As far as I know there was no door to be collected when the Rangers arrived."
Jurors have also been curious about the door, which rests against the wall opposite the jury box. They submitted a question about it to Smith. He read it to Miller.
"What happened to the right side of the door?" Smith asked.
"I have no idea, your honor," Miller said.

"Waco Wrongful Death Trial Ending"

by Matt Slagle (Associated Press, July 14, 2000)

WACO, Texas (AP) - Six years after the government prosecuted Branch Davidians over the events at Waco, the government faced a verdict of its own on its handling of the raid and siege of the Mount Carmel compound.
Closing arguments were set to begin Friday in the $675 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by family members and survivors who blame federal agents for the deaths of some 80 sect members.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr., the same federal judge who presided over the Branch Davidians' criminal trial, will then get the case along with an advisory juror panel.
The trial has centered on events that began on Feb. 28, 1993, when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents tried to search the complex and arrest sect leader David Koresh on illegal weapons charges.
When gunfire erupted, six Davidians and four ATF agents were killed.
A 51-day standoff ensued, ending on April 19, 1993, with the deaths of sect men, women and children from either gunshots or fire as the compound burned to the ground.
The government capped its defense Thursday with emotional testimony from an FBI agent who entered the burning compound on the final day and struggled to pull a sect member to safety.
``I found her about 8 to 12 feet inside laying on the floor, laying face down,'' said James McGee, a Hostage Rescue Team member. ``She was resistant and said, 'No, leave me alone.'''
McGee said Ruth Riddle did not respond when he asked about children.
``If she had told me, I would have gone after the children or died trying,'' said McGee, who received a Medal of Valor for his actions.
Government lawyers also presented autopsy findings on 21 adults, children and one infant who died in the complex. Twenty died of gunshot wounds and a toddler died of a stab wound to the chest - proof, they said, that Davidians were suicidal and started the fires.
But plaintiffs said FBI tanks engaged in a tear-gassing operation may have contributed to or caused the three fires by knocking over kerosene lanterns inside the complex. A government fire expert said the fires were probably set by cult members.
Before the trial, Smith ruled that the jury would not consider perhaps the most contentious issue - whether federal agents shot at the Davidians at the end of the siege. The judge said he will take up the issue later.
The plaintiffs were left to claim that agents used excessive force during the initial raid; the government said the agents were under fire and were only defending themselves.
The plaintiffs also said FBI was negligent when they used the tanks to prematurely demolish the building, violating a plan approved by Attorney General Janet Reno.
The government insisted the demolition was only a result of trying to create paths so tanks could inject tear gas into hard-to-reach parts of the building.
In the 1994 criminal trial, jurors acquitted 11 sect members of conspiring to murder federal agents and found eight guilty of voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges.
Smith decided an advisory jury would hear the latest case even though one is not required under federal law. Smith has indicated he will take the jury's decision under advisement and issue his final ruling later.
``He has a great deal of latitude. He can either rule for or against us, regardless of what this advisory jury has to say,'' government attorney Michael Bradford said.

Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates

CESNUR reproduces or quotes documents from the media and different sources on a number of religious issues. Unless otherwise indicated, the opinions expressed are those of the document's author(s), not of CESNUR or its directors

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