div CESNURCenter for Studies on New Religions


"Davidians Testify About Conditions"

by Sherri Chunn (Associated Press, June 28, 2000)

WACO, Texas (AP) - Living conditions in the Branch Davidian complex outside Waco became increasingly difficult during the sect's 51-day standoff with the federal government, a survivor of the conflict testified Wednesday.
``It was pretty rough. We were not able to get to the toilet facilities, which were outside at the time,'' Clive Doyle testified Wednesday. ``At one point in the siege the electricity was cut off.''
Branch Davidians used kerosene lanterns for light and propane to heat some areas inside their Mount Carmel compound.
Doyle, one of the plaintiffs in the $675 million wrongful death lawsuit against the government, testified that sect members drank rainwater and ate so-called ready-to-eat meals during the siege. He said he got about two hours of sleep a day and lost 30 pounds.
The standoff began Feb. 28, 1993, after agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms unsuccessfully tried to serve search and arrest warrants on sect leader David Koresh.
Four ATF agents and six Davidians died in a resulting gun battle. Doyle later was acquitted of murdering the four agents.
``The roof was shot up, the windows were out . . . whenever the wind blew you felt it. You put all the clothes you could find on to keep warm,'' Doyle testified.
The 51-day standoff ended on April 19, 1993, after federal agents tear gassed the compound and fire consumed the buildings. Koresh and about 80 of his followers died, some from fire, others from gunshots. Doyle escaped but lost his 18-year-old daughter, Shari, in the blaze.
The plaintiffs contend government agents fired indiscriminately during the raid; violated a preapproved plan when they had tanks punch holes in the building to spray tear gas; contributed to or caused at least some of the three fires that engulfed the compound; and failed to have firefighting equipment at the scene.
Government lawyers say Koresh and his followers intentionally started the fires.
Misty Ferguson, another survivor of the final day, recalled Tuesday how her hands were burned as she leaped from the second floor of the burning complex.
``The only thing I knew that was burned was my hands,'' said Ferguson, who raised her hand on the stand to reveal a stump without fingers.
Ferguson, now 24, said the tanks smashing into the building partially collapsed the second-story floor, hindering her escape.
U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford said her Ferguson's testimony contradicted statements from other witnesses who testified they had walked down the same hallway Ferguson claimed was blocked.
The jury will act only as an advisory panel to U.S. District Judge Walter Smith, who will deliver the verdict.

"Woman says tanks prevented escape"

by Jim Henderson ("Houston Chronicle", June 27, 2000)

WACO -- Misty Ferguson came to court Tuesday carrying with her the wrenching reminders of the inferno that ended the FBI siege of Mount Carmel seven years ago.
Dressed in white, her auburn bangs combed down to her wire-rim glasses, she stood with her back to the jury and raised her right hand to be sworn in as a witness.
What the jury saw was the stump of a hand, the fingers amputated.
Speaking softly, sometimes barely above a whisper, she described her last hours in the house of David Koresh; the tanks that poked through the walls and deposited tear-gas canisters; the floors of her second-story hallway, which collapsed and cut off her escape to nearby stairs; and the flames that charred her hands before she finally made it to the outside.
"I was in my room, and I came out into the hallway, and I felt heat underneath my feet," she said. "I tried to go down the hallway to get out. I didn't want to get burned."
The floor of the hallway caved in from being battered by the tanks, she said.
"I was engulfed in smoke," she testified in the trial of the Branch Davidians' wrongful death lawsuit against the U.S. government. "I couldn't see. I got on the floor and saw a little bit of light down the other way. I started going that way, and I found a hole where the tanks had come in. I jumped from the building there."
Occasionally during her testimony, she reached up with her left hand to brush back her hair and the jurors could see that it, too, was fingerless.
The graphic disfigurement of the hands of the woman, who was just 17 years old when the standoff at Mount Carmel ended, made her testimony among the most poignant so far in the trial.
Houston attorney Michael Caddell, lead counsel for the 100 Davidians and their families suing the government, did not dwell on her injuries.
"(The jurors) know what happened. They saw her hands," he said during an afternoon recess.
Instead, he questioned her about the events of Feb. 29, 1993, when the standoff began with a raid on the Davidian compound by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents who tried to arrest Koresh on weapons charges. Caddell also asked her about April 19, 1993, when FBI field commanders made the decision to end the armed confrontation with tanks and tear gas.
Ferguson and her mother, Rita Riddle, had lived at Mount Carmel for more than two years.
"I just sort of considered it my home," she said.
Her mother left a few days after the ATF raid, but Ferguson remained behind. She expected to be reunited with her mother soon, she said.
As the siege dragged on, she spent most of her time in her third-floor loft room at one end of the women's dormitory.
On April 19, she "woke up early to the sound of tanks all around the house."
Putting on a gas mask, she moved down to the second floor to a room where her mother had lived. When tanks broke through that side of the building, she moved across the hall and waited for a chance to escape.
"The whole building was shaking," she testified. "I was very scared."
The jury Tuesday also heard more deposition testimony about the FBI's tactical commanders who were in charge of the siege. Caddell has tried to convince the jury that Jeff Jamar, special agent in charge, and Richard Rogers, head of the hostage rescue team, violated a Washington-approved plan by beginning the dismantling of the structure prematurely.
Tuesday, the jury heard comments made by Clinton Van Zandt, a behavioral science specialist for the FBI, when he was asked for his assessment of Rogers.
"I think he believed very strongly in himself," Van Zandt said, "in his ability in the use of force. He saw negotiations as getting in the way. He is a strong proponent and advocate of tactical resolutions to situations."
Caddell has argued that Rogers declined to wait 48 hours to see if the tear gas drove the Davidians out of the structures and, instead, ordered the tanks to begin demolishing the complex two hours after the gassing began.
Caddell rested his portion of the plaintiffs' case in the afternoon. Former U.S. Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark, who represents another group of the plaintiffs, began presenting his case after Ferguson's testimony. He is expected to call several more Davidians today.

"Survivor testifies how she escaped from inferno at Waco"

by Hugh Aynesworth ("Washington Times," June 28, 2000)

WACO, Texas — A survivor of the final day of the government's siege on the Branch Davidian compound recalled that her hands were on fire as she leaped from the second floor of the complex that was engulfed in smoke and flames.
Misty Ferguson, whose fingers on both hands were later amputated, jumped from a second-story wall the afternoon that more than 80 Branch Davidians died in an inferno at Mount Carmel in 1993.
"There was a hole there in the front side of the building, and I jumped from the building there," Miss Ferguson, 24, testified yesterday in a wrongful-death trial against the federal government. "My hands were already burned."
She testified that she was "real scared" and disoriented as government tanks began demolishing the buildings and injecting tear gas canisters into the smoky darkness. She felt the building shaking and cracking apart.
Suddenly, she said, after crawling along the floor for an indeterminate time, she saw a glimmer of light from outside.
"I saw this little bit of light," she said, and headed for it. "It was a hole in the front side and I jumped from the building there." "It was my only way out," she said wistfully. She spoke softly, sometimes in a mere whisper.
Michael Caddell, the plaintiffs' lead counsel, led the tiny, soft-spoken Miss Ferguson through her 50-minute testimony slowly, not mentioning the loss of her fingers, but the deformity was obvious when she took her oath and when she would nervously pat her hair.
Referring to one of the government lawyers' opening remarks, which suggested none of the Branch Davidians had tried to escape when the fire erupted, Mr. Caddell asked her what she was trying to do.
"You were trying to get out." "Yes, sir," she replied.
"Why did you want to get out?" "I didn't want to be burned," she said.
The plaintiffs called Miss Ferguson as they neared the end of their case.
Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general, said he had a half-dozen or so witnesses, but thought it might not take more than another day.
Mr. Caddell represents almost 50 families of victims who died in the April 19, 1993, fire. Mr. Clark represents several survivors.
The plaintiffs hope to convince the jury that the government overstepped its authorization by ramming holes in the compound and was negligent in not providing adequate firefighting equipment at the scene. They seek $675 million in damages.
The government has contended that the use of tanks and the insertion of tear gas on the fatal day did not contribute to the fire that quickly swept the makeshift compound. Government lawyers say the Davidians set the fire themselves.
Hostage rescue team commander Richard Rogers and Danny Coulson, the FBI's top expert on tactical matters, have offered different theories on what happened and why, but they were not called to testify.
Mr. Caddell said he thought the government, which will probably begin its case late today, may want to call some of the commanders, so they can explain what happened and why.
"I think at this point," said Mr. Caddell, "that they're the ones who have to do things like bring [Jeffrey] Jamar [the head FBI on-scene tactical commander] and Rogers to explain what the hell happened out there, and show everybody what their authority was."
Earlier yesterday, a former Branch Davidian whose pregnant daughter also died on the final day of the standoff from a gunshot wound testified that sect leader David Koresh never labeled the agents as enemies.
In a deposition read to jurors, Oliver Gyarfas said his daughter, Aisha, who was 17 when she died, was one of several females living at the compound who was married to Koresh.
Mr. Gyarfas recalled Koresh's Bible studies, saying he taught that there would be an apocalyptic end of the world, but never said tanks, gunfire or fire would play a role. He also said Koresh never taught that the FBI and other federal agents were "the Beast," or the apocalyptic symbol of the devil.
"He said the way to win a person over to God's side is to use the Bible and to never use force of any kind," Mr. Gyarfas testified.

Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates

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