An attorney for the cult involved in the fatal 1993 Waco siege has admitted it would be "a lost cause" to continue trying to convince a judge that U.S. federal agents fired on sect members as they tried to escape their burning compound.
An advisory jury hearing the Branch Davidians' $675 million wrongful death lawsuit determined Friday that the U.S. government bears no responsibility for the deaths of sect leader David Koresh and some 80 followers in the final hours of the 51-day standoff.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith will issue the final ruling, expected in the next month, and will also consider perhaps the most contentious issue - whether federal agents shot at the Davidians at the end of the siege. But Davidian lawyers, survivors and victims' family members say they aren't expecting any change.
"I think a vast majority of the American public will take this as the final word," Michael Caddell, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said.
Caddell said he doesn't plan to file any more documents in the case and will tell the judge to make his decision based on the evidence in hand.
"Given what's happened in Waco with Judge Smith, we don't see the point. It's a lost cause. Judge Smith obviously has an agenda. At some point, it simply becomes futile," Caddell said.
The siege began on a Sunday morning, Feb. 28, 1993, when agents from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tried to search the Davidian's Mount Carmel complex and arrest Koresh on illegal weapons charges. Six Davidians and four ATF agents were killed in the ensuing shootout that day.
The standoff ended seven weeks later with the deaths of some 80 men, women and children, some from gunshots and other from the fire that quickly engulfed the compound hours into a tear-gassing operation designed to drive them out and end the siege.
Surviving Branch Davidians and relatives of those who died contend the government should shoulder some blame for the botched initial raid and holocaust at the end.
But the five-member jury, after deliberating 2 1/2 hours, determined the government didn't use excessive force during the raid and was not negligent in violating a plan by driving tanks into the compound.
The jury also had been asked whether agents contributed to or spread the fires or violated a directive to have firefighting equipment on the scene.
There were no loud protests after the verdict. Ten miles (16 kilometers) east of Waco, where a chapel has been built on the site of the destroyed compound, the only sounds came from birds and a tree branch rattling in the breeze.
Ron Goins, 45, who has been studying the Bible with surviving members of the sect for the past two years, said few Davidians held out much hope of a favorable verdict.
Goins added he was disappointed the jury came to its conclusion so fast. "That's not a chance to look over anything or review anything," he said.
Present-day Davidians who gather each Saturday for services at the chapel believed the jurors and the judge had gone into the trial with their minds made up. It wasn't emphasized enough how the Davidians were violated and harassed, Goins said.
During the trial, the government contended that ATF agents were ambushed by heavily armed Davidians at the start of the raid and that suicidal members of the group set the fires themselves on the final day.
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."
Either way, the trial had served some purpose for the Davidians, Goins said.
"What they were hopeful about was getting the facts out. We can't bring the people back. The people are dead," he said.
"There was some sort of closure because we got to speak our mind."
WACO, Texas (AP) - Long before an advisory jury decided the federal government was not responsible for the deaths of Branch Davidians in the Waco siege, U.S. attorneys had turned the case in their favor.
By invoking a federal law known as the discretionary function exemption, they eliminated several allegations in the $675 million wrongful death lawsuit brought by survivors of the 1993 siege and relatives of those who died. That exemption gives federal officials room to make judgment calls and carry them out without fear of being sued, even if their decisions prove to be bad.
``Even before we got to trial, the case was whittled down significantly to relatively narrow legal issues, in large part because a lot of the things we did are protected by the nature of discretionary function,'' said Thom Mrozek, a Department of Justice spokesman.
``The discretionary function exemption ... was designed to allow federal officials to exercise their best judgment in carrying out their responsibilities in matters involving the public interest - without exposing taxpayers to liability for their choices,'' said Marie Hagan, who helped defend the government in the Davidian case.
On Friday, a five-member jury decided the government did not use excessive force in its attempt to serve search and arrest warrants on Branch Davidian leader David Koresh on Feb. 28, 1993. A gun battle broke out and four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents as well as six Davidians were killed.
Jurors also decided the government's actions on April 19, 1993, the final day of the siege, were not negligent and did not contribute to the deaths of about 80 sect members. The government said suicidal sect members started fires in the building and were responsible for their own deaths.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith doesn't have to follow the jury's advice. He will make his final ruling after he considers whether federal agents shot at the Davidians at the end of the siege.
The plaintiffs say they don't expect him to deviate much from the jury. One Davidian leader on Saturday was already discussing an appeal.
``The government would like to think we've had our day in court and it's over. But you can't prove your point if you can't present your point,'' said Clive Doyle, a survivor of the siege who was part of the lawsuit against the government.
He joined about a dozen Davidians for Bible study Saturday in the small chapel built on the site where the sect's compound, known as Mount Carmel, burned to the ground.
``This is not the end of this,'' said Koresh's mother, Bonnie Haldeman. ``We're not going to let it be forgotten.''
Federal attorneys convinced Smith last year that the FBI's decision to tear gas the compound on April 19 to force the Davidians out was a discretionary function. Also taken out of consideration were tactics used during the standoff to persuade Davidians to surrender, such as turning off the electricity and playing loud music.
Even with such absolution, the case got a full airing, said U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford.
``Discretionary function played a role,'' Bradford said. ``But most issues went to the jury and judge. It was fairly tried and the judge let all the other issues go to the jury.''
Lead plaintiffs' attorney Michael Caddell disagreed: ``There was a lot of evidence we didn't get to present.''
Originally, the federal government was nearly untouchable in liability suits. The concept that the government could do no wrong - sovereign immunity - was a holdover from English law when kings were considered infallible.
Congress changed that in 1946.
``They realized they needed a way to end immunity, but not end it so broadly that all the money was used to pay claims,'' said Victor Schwartz, a partner at Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C.
Baylor University professor Bill Underwood said the jurors' decision in the Waco trial was significant even though some aspects were never presented to the panel.
``It is hard to sue the federal government,'' Underwood said. ``But understand, while the government has the right to be wrong, if the government fails to exercise reasonable care in executing policy it can be held liable.''
The discretionary function privilege ``left the plaintiffs with plenty of room to challenge the government's conduct,'' Underwood said. ``Given that latitude, it's significant that the government was vindicated.''
WACO, Tex., July 14 -- In a striking victory for the government, an advisory panel of five jurors took slightly more than an hour today to find that federal officials were not liable in the deaths of nearly 80 Branch Davidians who were killed in the 1993 raid and standoff at the sect's compound near Waco. Federal officials portrayed the jury's finding as a vindication for them in an episode that provided one of the darkest chapters in the history of federal law enforcement, threatened the career of Attorney General Janet Reno and continues to generate criticism. The lawsuit itself represents a six-year legal struggle that ultimately became a highly publicized test of the government's credibility.
"This terrible tragedy was the responsibility of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, not the federal government," the Justice Department said in a statement. "We are pleased the jury affirmed that view."
The swift verdict, which came after a month of testimony, may not be the final word on the case, however.
Federal District Judge Walter S. Smith, who is presiding over the trial, will ultimately decide the outcome of the wrongful-death suit. Earlier today, before the jury was seated, Judge Smith reminded lawyers involved, "It's important for everyone to understand that their decision is in no way binding."
"I intend to consider the advice of the jury, but by law I cannot be bound by it," he said.
Federal law allows for advisory panels in cases in which the government is being sued. Judge Smith limited the jury's role to that advisory capacity. Lawyers involved in the case today said they could not recall an instance in which a judge overruled a jury's advisory finding.
Judge Smith will not make his ruling until at least next month, after he hears another part of the case determining whether federal agents fired into the Branch Davidians' Mount Carmel compound as it was consumed by flames on April 19, 1993. That issue will be decided by him alone.
Survivors and relatives of Branch Davidians killed during the siege had sought $675 million, accusing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms of using excessive force and firing indiscriminately in the initial Feb. 28, 1993, raid to arrest Mr. Koresh, the sect leader, on weapons violations charges. Six Branch Davidians, as well as four bureau agents, were killed that day in the start of a 51-day standoff.
The survivors and relatives also contended that commanders on the scene for the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the April 19 fire had exceeded their authority while carrying out a plan, approved by superiors in Washington, to use tanks to shoot tear gas into the compound. Those tanks, the plaintiffs claimed, eventually caused a fire in which more than 70 people, including 20 children, died.
The government was also negligent, the plaintiffs further contended, by not having adequate equipment on hand to fight that fire.
Government lawyers had argued that Branch Davidians ambushed the A.T.F. agents in the initial raid and set the final, devastating fire themselves as part of a suicide pact.
Closing arguments from both sides in the case, delivered earlier today, were steeped in outrage.
"The scariest thing about this trial is that there will be another David Koresh," Michael Caddell, the lead plaintiff's lawyer, told jurors. "This case is about the children. It's too late to save the children of Mount Carmel. What you do here will determine what happens to those next children."
Mr. Caddell tried to fix blame for the raid, standoff and fire on those who planned the operations, but spoke glowingly of the "brave men" of the government who were killed.
"Men under that kind of pressure make mistakes," he said. "It's not their fault. They were placed in an impossible position. They didn't give the orders. They didn't make the plans."
During his final argument defending the government, J. Michael Bradford, the United States attorney, told the jury the events at Mount Carmel were "a terrible tragedy."
"Those children should be alive today, would be alive, but for the actions of a man who thought he was Jesus Christ," he said, referring to Mr. Koresh.
"We should be shocked and outraged by the conduct of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. Instead, we have this lawsuit that seeks to validate their actions."
In his charge to the jury, Judge Smith listed four questions they should answer in assessing fault.
Did the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms use excessive force and fire indiscriminately during the initial raid? Did F.B.I. agents act negligently, going beyond their orders, in their use of tanks during the final assault? Did those tanks cause the April 19 fire? And were F.B.I. commanders negligent in deciding not to have fire-fighting equipment available on the scene?
Since federal protections grant wide latitude for agents pursuing their official duties, Judge Smith ruled that if jurors answered "no" to the first two questions, there was no reason to answer the last two.
Jurors got no further than the first two questions, the judge said. The decision of the panel was unanimous, and the jurors did not want to speak to reporters, he said.
Mr. Caddell said he thought the jury was likely swayed by "all the guns" the sect kept at the compound.
When asked if he would appeal the verdict, Mr. Caddell hesitated and said, "As a a practical matter, when you get a verdict, it's over."
Mr. Bradford said the verdict vindicated the actions of the government agents who, he said, "faced a very dangerous group of people in a very difficult circumstance in 1993 in trying to carry out their job."
F.B.I. Director Louis Freeh 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."
Arguments in the case were delayed this morning while Judge Smith responded to accusations Mr. Caddell made on Thursday that the judge was trying to "engineer a verdict" through the four-part questionnaires he had prepared for the jury.
"I want to set the record straight," Judge Smith said. "I have not in any way tried to engineer a jury charge. I have tried to simplify the issues."
Some of those involved in the case said Judge Smith's narrow jury charge, and the limitations he placed on evidence during the trial, may have kept jurors and the public from getting all relevant facts in the case.
"I'm terribly, terribly frustrated by the way this case has gone," said Ramsey Clark, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and former attorney general in the Johnson administration, before the jury reached its verdict.
"This isn't a negligence case, it's a constitutional case. How do you drive a tank into a church dozens of times and then call it negligence? The government has made the victims into the violators," he said.
David Thibodeau, a Branch Davidian who survived the fire, also expressed frustration. "It's outrageous that after two Congressional hearings and the criminal trial they are still limiting what the public knows about this case. It'll be another 20 years before we find out what really happened," he said.
Ms. Reno appointed former Senator John Danforth as special counsel last September to conduct an investigation of the Mount Carmel events; that inquiry continues, and it is not known when he will make his report.
The jury of five people ruled that the federal government had not caused the deaths in the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in 1993 and had not acted negligently. The judge's final ruling will come later. Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth of Missouri is also conducting a separate investigation of the Davidians' claims.
A jury took just 2 1/2 hours Friday to clear the government of wrongdoing in the death of about 80 Branch Davidians during the 1993 government siege that ended in the destruction of their fortified complex near Waco.
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. noted that the jury's verdict was advisory. "I can use it in any manner I see fit," he said. But both sides expect Smith to agree with the jury.
"It's over," said Mike Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians. "I think the vast majority of American people will take this as the final word."
Caddell said he wondered how the jury's verdict would affect the investigation by special counsel John C. Danforth, who is conducting an independent inquiry.
"It will be interesting whether Senator Danforth will be influenced by the verdict. It will make it easier for Senator Danforth to conclude there was no government wrongdoing," Caddell said.
J. Michael Bradford, the U.S. attorney from Beaumont, Texas, who engineered the government victory, called it a "vindication for the law enforcement officers who were doing their duty ... under dangerous conditions."
The anonymous, five-member jury filed out of the courtroom to begin its deliberations about 12:25 p.m. That was the last time the jury was seen in public. The jurors had already left the courthouse when the judge read their verdict at 3 p.m. The judge read the five questions he had posed to the jury and their answer to each - "no."
The jury ruled that the Davidians had not proved that agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had fired on the complex in Mount Carmel, Texas, without provocation while serving a search warrant on Feb. 28, 1993 - the event that triggered the siege. Nor had the ATF agents fired "indiscriminately" during the ensuing gunfight, the jury said.
The jury also cleared the FBI of negligence in its handling of the final day of the siege, April 19, 1993, when the fire broke out, killing about 80 people. It rejected claims that the government had contributed to the deaths by prematurely knocking down parts of the building, by taking actions that spread the fire or by failing to have enough fire engines to fight the fire.
In his closing argument to the jury, Bradford painstakingly reviewed the evidence showing that the complex "erupted with gunfire" when agents tried to serve the search warrant. And he stressed that the Davidians set fire to the complex themselves and could have come out at any time during the 51-day siege.
"They set the place on fire," Bradford said. "They are responsible for the deaths because they burned the place to the ground."
He said the law enforcement officers were "not monsters, they're human beings."
Bradford said the pictures of dead Davidian children made him "very sad and very angry because those children ... would be alive today but for a man who thought he was Jesus Christ."
"David Koresh and Branch Davidians caused one of the most terrible and horrible events in our history and then they come in here and want to be awarded a judgment. That would be wrong," Bradford said.
The suit went to the jury Friday with the warning from Ramsey Clark, a lawyer for some of the Davidians, that "no one will be free from the violence of their own government" if the government is cleared. Clark, who was attorney general in the 1960s under President Lyndon Johnson, called Waco "the greatest domestic law enforcement tragedy in the history of the United States."
After the verdict, Caddell reiterated his criticism of the judge's instructions to the jury, which lumped together innocent Davidian children with Koresh, whom Caddell called evil. He said that charge had the "single most important impact on the case." But he stopped short of saying the trial was unfair.
Smith said he will announce his decision in the case early next month when he takes up the one issue not put to the jury: whether FBI agents fired at the Davidians on April 19, 1993.
On Aug. 2, Smith plans to hear testimony from David Oxlee, an infrared expert who conducted a simulation of the Waco siege in March. Oxlee concluded that flashes on an infrared tape made on April 19, 1993, are not from guns.
After the advisory verdict, Caddell said he may not press the gunfire issue. "I'm not someone who pursues lost causes," he said.
WACO Federal authorities were not responsible for the gunfight that began the Branch Davidian siege or the deadly fire that ended it in 1993, a five-member advisory jury ruled Friday.
Government lawyers said the decision, reached after 21/2 hours of deliberations, vindicates federal actions in the nation's deadliest law enforcement tragedy and should end seven years of controversy over the siege.
"The Branch Davidians started the fire, burned down their own complex, and caused this tragedy to happen. I think what this shows is that the responsibility for this tragedy is with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians," said U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford of Beaumont, who headed the government's defense team in the Branch Davidians' wrongful-death lawsuit.
"I hope that this puts to rest concerns about federal law enforcement's activities out there," he said. "I think this is a tragedy that has gone on for many years. And I would hope that this does put it to rest."
Lead plaintiffs' attorney Michael Caddell of Houston said he views the decision as final, even though U.S. District Judge Walter Smith reminded both sides Friday that the jury verdict was only advisory and he alone would make the final decision in the case.
Mr. Caddell said he will not pursue the sole undecided issue in the case: whether government agents fired guns at the Davidian compound and cut off escape routes when it burned on April 19, 1993.
Other lawyers involved in the lawsuit indicated that they still plan to pursue the issue, which Judge Smith has tentatively set for two days of hearings in early August.
"It's over," Mr. Caddell said. "I'm not someone who pursues lost causes," he said, adding that he told the court late Friday afternoon of his decision.
"We recognize that there will be no judgment issued by Judge Smith against the government," he said. "I think the vast majority of the American people will take this as the final word."
The $675 million lawsuit contended that the government should be held at least partially responsible for the raid that touched off the 1993 standoff on Feb. 28, 1993, and the inferno that ended it 51 days later.
Four agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms died when a gunbattle broke out as they tried to search the Davidians' compound for illegal weapons and arrest Mr. Koresh. Six Davidians also died in the February raid. About 80 perished in the fire that consumed the compound on April 19, 1993.
Lawyers for the sect argued that FBI tanks touched off or helped spread the fire when they smashed into the compound during a tank and tear gas assault. They also alleged that the decisions of the FBI's commanders to send the tanks deep into the building and to have no provision for fighting fires that day violated the Washington-approved plan for the tear gas operation.
During the four-week trial, jurors heard graphic and sometimes emotional testimony from federal agents involved in the standoff, as well as depositions from the FBI's top leaders in 1993 and Attorney General Janet Reno. Much of the plaintiffs' case centered on internal FBI documents from the siege.
Playing the tapes
Lawyers played a 911 tape made during the gunfight and also aired the now-famous footage of the melee recorded by a cameraman for KWTX, a Waco television station. Jurors also heard the faint voices of Davidians captured on FBI bugging devices. They included taped conversations in which Mr. Koresh laughed about watching an ATF agent get his head blown off and he and other followers later discussed pouring fuel and lighting fires just before the compound burned.
For the first time in a federal courtroom, a jury heard from the Davidians themselves. None of the surviving sect members ever testified in the 1994 criminal trial also presided over by Judge Smith, which ended with eight being sentenced to lengthy federal prison terms for manslaughter and gun violations.
Seven sect members were among the 49 witnesses during the trial, and both sides presented excerpts from depositions of 11 more current or former Davidians.
Government lawyers used those sect members' words to try to portray them as willing to surrender themselves, their wives, and their children to their self-proclaimed messiah, Mr. Koresh.
Government lawyers also spent more than a day detailing the 300 weapons amassed by Mr. Koresh. Jurors saw charred remnants of a .50-caliber sniper rifle and illegal AK-47 and AR-15 machine guns. They heard Texas Rangers testify in awe about the sect's arsenal, including one who said the number of guns and bullets found in the sect's bunker rivaled anything he'd ever seen at Texas National Guard headquarters.
Mr. Caddell said Friday that he believed that firearms evidence was the deciding factor in the jury's verdict. "It may be that at the end of the day, that for the jury, having that many weapons that close to Waco was just too much for them," he said.
On Friday, jurors retired about 12:30 p.m. to answer a series of questions put to them by Judge Smith. By 3 p.m., the three women and two men on the panel had unanimously agreed that the ATF had not fired indiscriminately or used excessive force. They also agreed that the FBI tanks' actions were not negligent and did not contribute to the fire, and that the FBI commanders were not negligent in their decision not to try to fight any fires at the compound during the tear gas assault.
In a striking break from most jury trials in state and federal courts, Judge Smith dismissed jurors and had them escorted out of the building before announcing their verdict.
"The jurors have informed me that it is their unanimous decision that they have no desire to talk to anyone, attorneys or news media," said Judge Smith. "They have already left the building and won't be available."
>From the beginning, when jury selection began June 19, Judge Smith ordered that jurors remain anonymous.
Friday, he sternly reminded both sides before closing arguments that the jury's verdict would only be advisory. Speaking at length to the packed courtroom, the judge expressed amazement that Mr. Caddell had told reporters the previous day that he viewed the judge's planned jury instructions in the case as an attempt to "engineer" a verdict favorable to the government.
On Thursday, Mr. Caddell said the judge's decision to lump all sect members together in one group instead of asking jurors to consider each individual's actions during the standoff ignored the law. He said the judge's instructions also failed to follow Texas law, which applies in the case under the federal statute that allows private lawsuits against government agencies.
But the visibly angry judge disputed that criticism at length Friday morning, noting that it was Congress that decided not to allow the issues in the case to be decided solely by a jury. Federal laws dictating when government agencies can be sued require that such litigation be decided by judges, but federal judges do have discretion to impanel advisory juries.
"First of all, I have not in any way tried to engineer the jury instructions or the verdict form in order to have a particular result happen. I have tried to simplify the jury charge to get to the bottom line in the issues that are of interest to me and the public in this case," he said. "A jury makes a decision. The jury advises the court. I can take its advice or I can reject it. I consider their verdict to the extent that I want to."
The jury's decision came after a morning of impassioned arguments about who should be held accountable for what went wrong in 1993. Plaintiffs' lawyers' warned jurors that the government must be found negligent to avoid a repeat of the tragedy.
"If the ATF and the FBI's conduct at Mount Carmel did not involve excessive force and negligence, then the U.S. government can employ this exact self-same conduct with impunity against any group in America, and no one here will be free from the violence of their own government," said former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. "It has to be stopped."
Mr. Bradford countered that the sect alone started and ended the confrontation with unimaginable violence, first ambushing federal agents without provocation and then immolating themselves instead of submitting to lawful authority.
"They could've ended it at any time by simply surrendering and not resisting arrest," Mr. Bradford said. "We should be shocked and outraged by the conduct of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, but what we have instead is this lawsuit. It's a lawsuit that puts on trial the men and women of the ATF and the FBI."
Who fired first?
Mr. Caddell argued that none of the 10 agents who testified in the case "could tell us who started fired first. ...You heard testimony, the uncontroverted testimony that David Koresh, as evil as he was, was standing at the front door unarmed."
But Mr. Bradford said the sect clearly laid an ambush after being tipped off to the coming raid. He noted that the 10 ATF witnesses and 28 additional agents whose post-raid statements were read to jurors "described the same experience."
"As soon as they exited and approached Mount Carmel, it exploded with gunfire, he said. "Within seconds, agents were pinned down behind cars, behind air conditioners, behind propane bottles, behind anything they could. ....They found themselves in a fight for their lives."
Mr. Bradford conceded that "we may never know exactly where the first shot came out of Mount Carmel, because it happened so quickly, and it happened so fast." But he said the plaintiffs had offered no evidence that any of the agents' gunshots during the ensuing battle were unprovoked.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs repeatedly told jurors that the government must be held at least partially responsible for the awful deaths of the sect's children. More than 20 died, but government lawyers introduced autopsy reports during the trial that showed five of the children died of gunshots and one was stabbed.
James Brannon, a Houston lawyer representing the estates of three of Mr. Koresh's children killed in the fire, conceded that the children might have been "no more than hostages for their parents."
'Rescue the innocent'
But he ridiculed the response of the FBI and its Hostage Rescue Team. "Their idea of rescue is knowingly putting gas in on children who have no gas masks?" he said. "First, you rescue the innocent."
Mr. Caddell asked jurors to consider how their decision might affect the lives of other children caught up in future conflicts between the government and "evil" madmen like Mr. Koresh.
"The scariest thing in this case is that there will be another David Koresh," Mr. Caddell said. "So this case is about the next children who will be with the next David Koresh, and the next, and the next. What we do here ... will determine what happens to those next children."
But Mr. Bradford said the Davidians alone sealed their children's fates, and he ridiculed efforts to blame government decisions and actions.
"What would've happened if they hadn't decided to put that tear gas in? What if David Koresh had done something like Jonestown, and he'd poisoned everyone he'd poisoned all the children?" he said. "We'd be here today with a group of lawyers saying, 'Why didn't you go in with tear gas?'"
He then recounted how one FBI hostage rescue team member who had testified the previous day had risked his life to save a Davidian from the burning building.
"You think about his running into the building and saving a life. And asking, where are the children? And they wouldn't tell him," Mr. Bradford said. "He would have given his life to save those children. He is the HRT. That is the HRT. ... They're not monsters. They're people. And they were out there to do their jobs."
WACO Branch Davidians accepted with a sense of resignation the news that a federal jury doesn't believe the government was responsible for the tragic events in Waco.
Citing what they call a history of victimization by the federal government, members of the religious sect said the verdict was consistent with the pattern.
"It's kind of like the Kennedy assassination: You have the official version and whatever everybody else believes," Branch Davidian Clive Doyle said Friday. "The American public needs to be thinking and praying that they are not next on the list."
His reaction to the verdict: "Ho-hum."
Mr. Doyle, who was badly burned on both hands during the April 19, 1993, fire in which more than 80 Davidians died, said he and others were prepared for such a verdict. "That's what we expected."
Before and during the trial, survivors said their religious practices and beliefs may be unorthodox, but they were a peaceful group living under the guidance of their self-proclaimed messiah, David Koresh, when federal agents tried to arrest him on weapons charges Feb. 28, 1993. A gunbattle erupted, leaving four agents and six Davidians dead on the first day of the 51-day siege.
During live testimony of seven current or former Branch Davidians and deposition testimony of 14 more during the wrongful-death lawsuit against the government, government attorneys questioned their religious practices, their stockpile of weapons and their faith in Mr. Koresh.
"They put more emphasis on the religion and what their beliefs are," said Sherry Burgo, whose father Floyd Houtman died in the fire. "As far as I knew, in this country, you have the right to believe in any kind of religion."
Outside of a miracle, Mr. Doyle said Friday, he doesn't see the judge deciding against the jury's verdict. Attorneys for the Branch Davidians and survivors of those who died had argued that the government was responsible for using excessive force as the standoff started, violating its own plan for ending the siege, starting the deadly fire and failing to have firefighting equipment on hand. The government maintained that the Davidians started the fire that ended the siege and ambushed ATF agents at its start.
"At least we have a chance to appeal ... Maybe the next time we'll be able to prove the case," Ms. Burgo said outside the federal courthouse in downtown Waco. "We got to be strong."
David Koresh's mother, Bonnie Haldeman, said the Branch Davidians didn't expect anything different, but she added, "God is still in control."
"We're fighting the government, my God, what do you expect?"
A last hope
The Davidians said they had hoped the trial was at last a chance to seek some vindication or balance to their image. But many are now sorely disappointed that the opportunity was lost as government attorneys battered apart their portrayal of life at Mount Carmel during the monthlong $675 million suit.
During the trial, government attorneys introduced testimony that Mr. Koresh systematically prepared his followers to be "God's army" against the "Assyrians," a reference to Old Testament "enemies" of God's chosen people. Those enemies, government attorneys argued, were the federal authorities who first arrived at Mount Carmel to search for illegal weapons and to arrest Mr. Koresh.
U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford, the government's lead lawyer, said that was the cornerstone of the government's defense because the sect's violence was driven by what Mr. Koresh taught. "The problem here is with the Branch Davidians. They purchased 300 weapons. About 50 of them were illegal, and they violated the law. And when ATF agents came to enforce the law, they killed them.
"Our complaint is not with their beliefs. It's with their actions. If the Davidians wanted to believe in David Koresh, that's certainly their right. But it doesn't give them the right to violate the law and resist arrest and burn that compound down and kill all those children."
Accusations of prejudice
But plaintiffs' lawyer Michael Caddell said that the government's presentation was aimed at prejudicing jurors.
"I do think religion has been put on trial here," Mr. Caddell said. "What the government is trying to do is create some sort of religious intolerance on the part of the jury ... The government is trying to justify their actions by demeaning [the Davidians'] religion."
Some surviving Davidians said they understand outsiders view their religion as strange. But they say their beliefs are simple and spring from Mr. Koresh's teachings about obedience to the word of God. "True, our religion may have been a little different from other people, but there are different religions everywhere," Ms. Haldeman said. "Anybody who knew us would say we were peaceful."
Ms. Haldeman said her son was portrayed unfairly. "He was the most loving person there was. He lived up to what the Bible taught him," she said. "He was following God's directions, not man ... I love David very much. I miss him very much."
The plaintiffs' case included fond recollections by Davidian adults and children about their lives at Mount Carmel. Several children described their existence as a perpetual summer camp, and adults told of a special spiritual bond of shared lives and beliefs with people from all over the world.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith abruptly cut off plaintiffs' lawyer Ramsey Clark when he tried to ask Mr. Doyle about the group's efforts to regroup and rebuild their church after the 1993 tragedy.
"What's the relevance?" Judge Smith asked. "It's to show that the faith goes on," Mr. Clark responded.
"What's the relevance of that?" the Judge demanded. "I think it's important to show that you can't crush religion," Mr. Clark said.
"That's not the purpose of this trial," the judge said.
But he did allow extensive testimony about how Mr. Koresh's brand of religion became increasingly militant in the months before the ATF raid.
Some siege survivors and former Davidians said Mr. Koresh trained followers to assemble and shoot weapons, even assigning women to learn how to use guns and undergo physical training.
Donald Bunds an engineer who by chance left the compound only minutes before a gunfight broke out there with ATF agents recalled bringing milling machinery and a lathe to the compound for Mr. Koresh in 1992. He said he used the equipment on Mr. Koresh's orders to make silencers and to machine parts to convert AR-15 assault rifles to automatic weapons.
"He was constantly going through a scenario where the enemy or the cops or the ATF ...were going to come down the driveway with rifles, and we were going to have to shoot back," Mr. Bunds said. "He thought this was an inevitable thing."
Some former sect members testified in depositions about Mr. Koresh taking girls as young as 12 and even wives of married followers in his total control over the group.
Dana Okimoto, who left in 1992 after an argument with Mr. Koresh, said she had two children with Mr. Koresh after joining "what he called the house of David" in 1987.
"It was part of God's plan. It had to do with the bride of Christ message at the time. It was an opportunity to be part of that," she said. "During the first year I was there it was a surprise that he had had other women, but once I listened to what to how it all tied in, I accepted that. And there was nothing shocking after that for me during that time."
'Back on trial'
Mr. Doyle tries to be understanding of those whose testimony reflected poorly on the Davidians.
"I can understand why some of them talked the way they did. I can't understand all of it," said Mr. Doyle, one of nine survivors of the April 19 fire. "We're not supposed to be on trial, but they [the government] put us back on trial to defend themselves."
He is less understanding of Mr. Caddell, who has conceded that the Davidians may have started one of the fires on April 19 and has told reporters that Mr. Koresh was "an evil man."
Sheila Martin described the reading of the verdict as the "kind of thing where you held your breath and you waited." As the jurors deliberated, Ms. Martin said she hoped they could see that what happened at Mount Carmel was a "horrible tragedy."
"We're not going to give up. We still have our faith," she said. "Our trust is in God."
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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