CESNUR - center for studies on new religions

"Waco Trial Chronology"

(Associated Press, July 14, 2000)

Key developments in the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, and the investigations that followed:
Feb. 28, 1993: About 76 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms move in to search the complex and arrest leader David Koresh on illegal weapons charges. Four agents are killed and 16 wounded in gun battles. Six Davidians are killed and several wounded, including Koresh.
April 19, 1993: The compound burns to the ground after FBI agents in an armored vehicle smash the buildings and pump in tear gas. Justice Department says cult members set the fire. Nine members survive; about 80 are believed dead.
October 1993: A review of the FBI's tear-gas assault exonerates the FBI and Justice Department. Later, Harvard professor Alan Stone files a dissenting report blaming the FBI.
February 1994: Jury convicts five Branch Davidians of voluntary manslaughter and two of weapons charges.
April 1995: Several civil lawsuits filed by family members of Branch Davidians and survivors are consolidated and transferred to U.S. District Judge Walter Smith, who presided over the criminal trial.
July 1995: Two congressional subcommittees hold joint hearings over 10 days in an attempt to provide ``a full accounting'' of what happened at the compound.
August 1996: A federal appeals court upholds the convictions of six Davidians, saying federal agents did not use excessive force in trying to arrest Koresh.
July 1999: Smith pares the number of defendants and plaintiffs in the wrongful death lawsuit, but rules that the case can reach trial.
August 1999: Retreating from its past denials, the FBI acknowledges that federal agents fired one or more incendiary tear gas rounds during the standoff with Davidians, after a documentary researcher finds potentially incendiary devices among evidence. Later, federal prosecutor Bill Johnston, one of the lawyers for the government in the wrongful-death lawsuit, sends a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno saying government lawyers had known for years about the use of pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds.
September 1999: Johnston is removed from the case, which is then assigned to U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford. Meanwhile, former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., opens an independent inquiry ordered by Reno into whether the FBI started the deadly fire and later tried to cover its actions.
October 1999: An expert retained by a House committee concludes that videotape of the standoff shows the FBI fired shots on the siege's final day, contrary to the bureau's insistence its agents did not fire a single round.
Plaintiffs' lawyers later propose recreating aspects of the siege's final hours.
April 24: Judge announces that court expert's preliminary study of infrared videotapes made during the final hours of the siege found no firearm muzzle flashes from either federal agents or cult members.
May 10: Court experts release final report on the simulation of aspects of the siege, which finds that flashes seen on a videotape were sunlight reflecting off debris, not government gunfire.
June 12: Smith decides the question of whether government agents fired on Branch Davidians during the final hours of the siege will not be considered by the advisory jury. Instead, Smith rules he'll take up the issue later when a court-appointed expert - who was ill and could not attend the trial - is available to provide testimony.
June 19: The $675 million wrongful death lawsuit against the government begins.
Friday: An advisory jury decides the government bears no responsibility for the deaths of the Davidians. Smith takes the jury's decision under advisement, saying he will issue his final ruling when he takes up the gunfire issue.

"Feds Heartened by Waco Verdict"

(The Associated Press, July 14, 2000)

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Clinton administration Justice Department, criticized harshly in some quarters for its handling of the standoff with the Branch Davidians at Waco seven years ago, praised a jury's verdict Friday absolving the government of liability.
``This terrible tragedy was the responsibility of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, not the federal government,'' the department said in a terse statement. ``We are pleased the jury affirmed that view.''
FBI Director Louis Freeh elaborated.
``There has been a lot of speculation, misinformation and second-guessing over the past seven years and I am grateful that this trial and other actions by the court allowed the allegations to be aired and the facts to be proved,'' he said in a statement.
``I commend the court for exercising its discretion in empaneling an advisory jury to evaluate the credibility of all witnesses and assess the facts proven in court,'' he said. ``The significance of the jury's findings to the courageous federal law enforcement officers who have had to absorb unproven allegations and public criticisms for all those years cannot be overstated. An enormous burden has been lifted from them and their families.''
Freeh said he considered the loss of life at Waco ``tragic.'' But he also said that ``as the jury heard, there were FBI agents who risked their lives to save the lives of Branch Davidians.''
``I hope that today's announcement will reinforce the fact that the actions taken during those 51 difficult days were taken by dedicated professionals who were doing their best under extraordinarily dangerous conditions,'' he said.
``Today also should serve as a reminder that ATF officers were killed in the line of duty,'' Freeh said. ``The families and loved ones of those agents can now take some solace in knowing this outcome also lifts from them the heavy burdens of unfounded allegations.''

"Jury finds U.S. not to blame in Waco case"

by Marcus Kabel (Reuters, July 14, 2000)

WACO, Texas, July 14 (Reuters) - In a clear victory for the U.S. government, an advisory jury in a $675 million lawsuit by Branch Davidians found on Friday that federal agents were not to blame for the deaths of about 80 sect members in the 1993 Waco siege and fire.
The five-member jury, whose finding is only a guideline for U.S. District Judge Walter Smith, took just over two hours to reach a verdict that Davidian lawyers conceded would settle for most Americans a seven-year debate over who was at fault in the Waco conflagration.
``I think this verdict for most of the American people is the final word. What they will take away from this is that five people sat on a jury for four weeks and they found the government not guilty,'' Michael Caddell, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, told reporters.
The lawsuit filed against the U.S. government charged that federal agents were at least partly responsible for a 51-day armed standoff at the Davidian compound outside Waco in central Texas and a blaze that consumed the building after an FBI tank and tear gas assault.
The suit was filed by surviving Branch Davidians or relatives of the dead.
Government lawyers argued the Davidians and their leader, David Koresh, bore sole responsibility for sparking the stand-off by shooting at U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents, who raided the property on Feb. 28, 1993, to arrest Koresh and for setting the compound ablaze in a suicidal act of defiance on April 13.
It was the latest round of a seven-year battle between the Davidians and the U.S. government over the Waco siege that led to congressional inquiries and to criminal trials, as well as a probe started last year by a special investigator named by the Justice Department into how federal agents conducted the operation.
``This has been a tragedy that has gone on for many years and I hope this puts it to rest,'' U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford said.
The advisory jury, a special feature of federal civil suits against the government, sided fully with the government against the charges of excessive force and negligence.
Specifically, the jury said that evidence showed the ATF did not fire indiscriminately during the initial raid, that the FBI did not cause the fire when its tanks drove through the compound walls and did not violate orders by not having firefighters on hand.
Smith said he would make a final ruling after a hearing on Aug. 2 on a final issue raised by the Davidian lawsuit - whether FBI agents fired on sect members as they tried to flee the burning compound. That aspect was broken from the trial because a key witness was kept away by surgery.
``The jury has now given me their advice on how they see the facts in this case. I can use their advice in any manner I see fit,'' Smith told the court.
Smith is the same judge who presided over a criminal trial of five Davidian survivors on weapons charges in 1994. Smith handed down sentences between 20 and 40 years, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month they must be shortened because Smith improperly applied sentencing guidelines.
Several of the roughly 100 plaintiffs said after Friday's verdict they felt the civil trial was one-sided and Smith was biased against them.
``It was more of us on trial than them,'' said Clive Doyle, who survived the Waco debacle but lost his teenage daughter.
Some said they wanted to appeal but Caddell, their lead counsel, told reporters it was too early to decide before the judge reaches a final verdict.
Caddell also suggested he may drop the final issue of FBI gunfire before the Aug. 2 hearing, which would leave the judge free to reach a final verdict based on the case so far.
The government denies FBI agents fired at all on the day of the fire, a charge the plaintiffs have based on flashes of light on a FBI aerial surveillance video.
Court-appointed experts, who conducted a test filming of gunfire in March, have said the results show the flashes on the original Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) video were caused by by sunlight and heat, not gunfire.
But the judge put off hearing the issue until the leading expert from the British firm that did the test, Vector Data Systems, could fly to the United States after surgery.

"Jury: Govt. Not Responsible in Waco"

by Sherri Chunn (he Associated Press, July 14, 2000)

WACO, Texas (AP) - An advisory jury decided Friday that the government does not bear responsibility for the deaths of 80 Branch Davidians during the cult's 1993 standoff with federal agents. A federal judge will deliver the final verdict.
The five jurors deliberated for 2 1/2 hours in the $675 million wrongful-death lawsuit filed by surviving Branch Davidians and relatives of those who were killed. The trial, which lasted nearly a month, brought out emotional testimony recounting the standoff from both sides.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith, who will take the jury's findings under advisement, said he would render his verdict soon, possibly in August. He will also consider perhaps the most contentious issue - whether federal agents shot at the Davidians at the end of the siege.
The plaintiffs contended that the government should shoulder some blame for the botched raid that started the 51-day standoff and the final day of the siege, when the cult's compound went up in flames.
But the jury found that the government did not use excessive force during the raid and was not negligent by driving tanks into the compound on the final day. The jurors also had been asked whether agents contributed to or spread the fires or violated a directive to have firefighting equipment at the site, which was known as Mount Carmel.
``I think a vast majority of the American public will take this as the final word,'' said Michael Caddell, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. ``For most people that will be the finish to Mount Carmel.''
The government contended that federal agents were ambushed by heavily armed Davidians in the raid and that suicidal members of the group set the fires themselves on the final day.
To bolster their defense, government attorneys played audio tapes made inside the compound in which unidentified Branch Davidians were heard asking ``Start the fire?'' and ``Should we light the fire?''
At one point, a male voice could be heard saying, ``Let's keep that fire going,'' as tanks rumbled in the background.
``This terrible tragedy was the responsibility of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, not the federal government,'' the Justice Department said in a statement after the decision was announced. ``We are pleased the jury affirmed that view.''
Plaintiffs' lawyer Ramsey Clark, who was attorney general during Lyndon Johnson's administration, said in closing arguments Friday that the deaths of the cult members ``didn't have to happen'' and called the siege ``the greatest domestic law enforcement tragedy in the history of the United States.''
``If the conduct of the ATF and the FBI was performed without excessive force and without negligence, then how in the world did it end up with such unmitigated, disastrous effects?'' Clark said.
The siege began on Feb. 28, 1993, when Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents tried to search the complex and arrest Koresh, the cult's leader, on illegal weapons charges. Six Davidians and four ATF agents were killed in the ensuing shootout.
The standoff ended 51 days later with the deaths of some 80 men, women and children inside the compound from either gunshots or from the flames that quickly engulfed the building hours into a tear-gassing operation designed to end the siege.
Caddell cited government documents that he said proves agents deviated from their planned tear-gassing operation and put innocent people inside the compound.
Memories of the inferno at the end of the siege have made Waco a one-word rallying cry for critics of the government, who have claimed the government covered up aspects of its role.
Last year, the FBI recanted earlier denials and acknowledged that federal agents fired one or more incendiary tear gas rounds during the standoff; a documentary researcher had found potentially incendiary devices among the evidence stored in Texas.
A month later, Attorney General Janet Reno appointed former Missouri Sen. John Danforth as special counsel to resolve unanswered questions about the siege.
A spokeswoman for Danforth, Jan Diltz, would not comment on Friday's decision, nor would she speculate on when Danforth might conclude his probe.
FBI Director Louis Freeh said the jury's conclusion lifted ``an enormous burden'' from law enforcement officers involved with the siege.
``There has been a lot of speculation, misinformation and second-guessing over the past seven years,'' Freeh said in a statement, ``and I am grateful that this trial and other actions by the court allowed the allegations to be aired and the facts to be proved.''
Clive Doyle, who was one of nine people who escaped the inferno and is one of the plaintiffs in the wrongful-death case, maintained that the government's version of what happened in 1993 in untrue.
``I would've been surprised if the jury ruled in favor of us,'' he said. ``It's kind of like the Kennedy assassination. You have the official version and you have what everybody else believes.''

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

[Home Page] [Cos'è il CESNUR] [Biblioteca del CESNUR] [Testi e documenti] [Libri] [Convegni]

[Home Page] [About CESNUR] [CESNUR Library] [Texts & Documents] [Book Reviews] [Conferences]