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"Agents prepared for worst before Waco raid"

(Associated Press, July 5, 2000)

WACO – Federal agents learned how to treat "sucking chest wounds'' and give other emergency medical treatment in the field during two days of training for the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian complex, a federal agent said.
Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agent Gerald Petrilli testified Wednesday during the wrongful-death trial against the government that he and other agents expected only to get into fistfights with sect members on Feb. 28 as they tried to search the building for illegal weapons and arrest sect leader David Koresh.
Under cross-examination, Petrilli acknowledged that before the raid, some agents were taught by military personnel at Fort Hood, a nearby Army post, how to administer field intravenous lines and treat shock and gunfire wounds.. Petrilli's blood type was stenciled on his neck and leg before the raid, he said.
Robert White, a former ATF agent, testified last week that writing an agent's blood type on his body was not standard procedure and was recommended by "the military.''
The ATF also brought tents, medical assistance, portable toilets, milk and water to take care of Davidians who were to be taken into custody after agents served the warrants, said Petrilli.
The ATF never had a chance to use those supplies, he said.
"We never made it to the front door of the structure,'' he testified.
As soon as agents started approaching the building, he said, "the entire front of the compound erupted in gunfire ... I heard all the gunfire coming from the compound at us.''
"I saw muzzle flashes. I saw curtains billowing out at the same time I saw muzzle flashes,'' Petrilli said.
Four agents and six Davidians were killed in the ensuing gunbattle that triggered the sect's 51-day standoff with the government.
"There was no way for us to simply get up and walk out without being slaughtered ... We were stuck there,'' Petrilli said.
Petrilli suffered 47 entry wounds during the raid, supposedly from a grenade tossed by Davidians, he said. But plaintiffs' lead attorney Michael Caddell suggested Petrilli was hit with shotgun fire from an ATF team assigned to get rid of the dogs roaming the complex.
Petrilli was one of the first witnesses called to testify as the trial pitting sect survivors and family members against the government entered its third week. The government began presenting its defense in the $675 million case late last week.
Earlier Wednesday, Jacob Mabb, a 16-year-old who left the compound the evening of the raid, recalled helping load ammunition into gun magazines during the raid. He also remembered seeing boxes of magazines and ammunition stored in a concrete vault in the structure.
In his videotaped deposition, he said he heard gunfire but never saw anyone shooting.
Plaintiffs say the agents fired indiscriminately into the building during the raid; the agents say they were ambushed by Davidians and were defending their lives.
Plaintiffs also contend that FBI agents on April 19, 1993, violated an approved tear-gassing plan when tanks punched holes in the building and by failing to have firefighting equipment at the scene. They also say the government contributed to or helped cause at least some of the three fires that engulfed the compound.
U.S. attorneys say that federal agents acted within their discretion and that Branch Davidians started the fire that destroyed their compound.
The government is expected to shift its focus this week to FBI agents' actions on the final day of the standoff and will probably wrap up its defense sometime next week.
A five-member jury will act only as an advisory panel to the judge, who will deliver the verdict.

"More Testimony in Waco Case"

by Sherri Chunn (Associated Press, July 5, 2000)

WACO, Texas (AP) - Branch Davidian leader David Koresh wanted semiautomatic weapons converted into machine guns and grew more militant in the months before government agents attempted to raid the cult's compound, a former member testified Wednesday.
In a deposition read by government attorneys, Donald Bunds said Koresh told him to bring machinery to the complex outside Waco to modify weapons.
Bunds, who lived at the compound for several months, said he ``did the job,'' using a milling machine and a lathe to make silencers and modify weapons parts. He testified he saw all the parts needed to make a fully automatic assault rifle, or machine gun, but did not know if a complete gun ever was constructed.
Koresh considered the government an enemy and often spoke about a violent end of the world, he said. ``He thought this was an inevitable thing,'' Bunds said.
Bunds left the compound on Feb. 28, 1993, hours before the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tried to raid the complex to search for illegal weapons and arrest Koresh.
The raid led to a gun battle in which four agents and six Branch Davidians died. It started a 51-day standoff that ended April 19, 1993, when the cult's compound burned down, killing about 80 Davidians.
Bunds' testimony was offered by the government in defense of a $675 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by Branch Davidian survivors and relatives.
Though the plaintiffs say the agents fired indiscriminately into the building during the raid, the agents claim they were ambushed and were defending their lives.
The plaintiffs also claim the government helped cause at least some of the three fires that engulfed the compound at the end of the siege; the government says the Branch Davidians started the fires.
Bunds was jailed the day of the raid as he was returning to the compound after the shootout.
He acknowledged under cross-examination that he cooperated with the ATF in exchange for his release from jail and that he continued to cooperate with the government until he was allowed to return to his home in California.
Earlier Wednesday, an ATF agent said ATF medics received first aid training from their military counterparts two days before the raid. The agent, Gerald Petrilli, said he expected fistfights with cult members when agents raided the compound, not a shootout.
``We never made it to the front door of the structure,'' he testified, saying once agents started approaching the building, ``the entire front of the compound erupted in gunfire.''
``There was no way for us to simply get up and walk out without being slaughtered ... We were stuck there,'' Petrilli said.
Under cross-examination, Petrilli said some agents were taught by personnel at Fort Hood, a nearby Army post, how to administer intravenous lines and treat shock and gunfire wounds a few days before the raid. He also said his blood type was written on his neck and leg before the raid.
Former ATF agent Robert White testified last week that writing an agent's blood type on their body was recommended by the military and not standard procedure.
The government also offered the videotaped deposition of Jacob Mabb, a 16-year-old who left the compound the evening of the raid. He recalled helping load ammunition into gun magazines during the raid and said he saw boxes of magazines and ammunition stored in a concrete vault in the structure.
Mabb, who was 9 when he left the complex, said he heard gunfire during the raid but never saw anyone shooting.
A five-member jury will act as an advisory panel to U.S. District Judge Walter Smith, who will deliver the verdict.

"Davidian wrongful-death trial to resume Wednesday"

by Mark England ("Waco Tribune-Herald," July 4, 2000)

The civil trial in the Branch Davidians' wrongful-death lawsuit against the government will resume Wednesday with more testimony regarding the 1993 raid on Mount Carmel by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Both sides believed their cases were going well as court recessed last Friday for the weekend and July 4th holiday.
"I think the jury gets it," said Houston attorney Mike Caddell, lead plaintiffs attorney. "I think the jury understands that we're not denying responsibility for the bad people at Mount Carmel who did bad things. But I think the jury understands that's not what this lawsuit is about. This is not a replay of the criminal case."
Michael Bradford, co-counsel for the government and the U.S. attorney from Beaumont, likes the government's position going into week three of the civil trial.
"I don't believe they've proved their case at all," Bradford said. "At this point, we're simply putting in additional evidence to prove there's no basis for liability."
Caddell called the witnesses put on by the government last week "irrelevant."
"I think so far the government's witnesses have been better for us than they have been for them," Caddell said. "They've put on a lot of nice people who went through a lot of suffering, but they really don't know anything about the issues in this lawsuit."
Four issues are at stake in the civil trial: 1) Did ATF agents fire indiscriminately during the Feb. 28, 1993 raid? 2) Did the FBI deviate from its plan and begin demolishing Mount Carmel early? 3) Did the FBI contribute to the cause and spread of the April 19, 1993, fire? 4) Should firefighting equipment have been at the scene?
The plaintiffs got a bit of gravy for their case last week when they were allowed to present testimony from hostage negotiators critical of the decision to insert tear gas into Mount Carmel.
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. initially barred any negotiators' comments made during the siege.
However, Smith allowed comments by Gary Noesner, who coordinated the Mount Carmel hostage negotiation team, to be read to the advisory jury. Noesner said in a government debriefing that tactical officers should have realized poking holes in Mount Carmel would have provoked a violent reaction.
The plaintiffs argue that FBI supervisors deviated from a plan that called for the dismantling of Mount Carmel only if the Davidians did not come out within 48 hours of the tear gas being inserted.
"That was important evidence," Caddell said. "I think we're in good shape."
Bradford said he thinks the plaintiffs have already proved part of the government's case.
"He (Caddell) admitted in his opening that the Davidians had set at least one fire," Bradford said. "And according to their expert, you can't prove anything else about any of the rest of the fires. So what you're left with is the Davidians set the fire."
When the trial resumes, Bradford said the government will present surveillance tapes obtained from bugs planted inside Mount Carmel.
"There are several days prior to the 19th where there are conversations about setting a fire and conversations about other subjects that are relevant as well," Bradford said. "For example, there are conversations on those tapes about the shoot-out with the ATF as well."

"Waco Trial Speeds Ahead Without Revelations"

by Eric Lichtblau ("Los Angeles Times," July 3, 2000)

WASHINGTON--The judge was getting impatient. The lawyer for the Branch Davidians wanted to question a sect member on the witness stand last week about efforts to rebuild a church on the site of the 1993 inferno at Mount Carmel, but the judge demanded to know the relevance.
The rebuilding effort was important in showing that "you can't crush religion," insisted Ramsey Clark, an attorney for the plaintiffs and a former U.S. attorney general. The judge was unswayed. "That's not the purpose of this trial," he answered.
Indeed, as the Branch Davidian trial in Waco, Texas, enters its third and perhaps final week of testimony, the trial's narrow scope--determining whether the government bears any responsibility for the deaths of some 80 Davidians--has become increasingly clear.
Amid scant nationwide media attention, the testimony appears to have broken little new ground in the public's understanding of what happened at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco. And the trial is moving toward a rapid conclusion, weeks ahead of schedule.
'I Live With This Every Day'
In the view of government officials, the trial in the end will serve only to confirm their long-standing version of what happened near Waco: that sect leader David Koresh and his followers ambushed federal agents who were trying to serve a warrant on their compound and, after a bloody shootout and a 51-day standoff, then set the place on fire and killed themselves.
"I think it's fair to say that there is little new material coming out, and what we're seeing at this trial is a focus on several fairly narrow issues," Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the Justice Department said in an interview from Waco.
But Michael Caddell, lead attorney for 15 survivors and 85 relatives of the dead in the $675-million wrongful-death lawsuit, said he believes his side has already demonstrated that negligence and recklessness of government agents contributed to the deaths of the Davidians, including many children inside the compound.
The first few days of government testimony last week from Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents who took part in the initial shootout on Feb. 28, 1993, have only buttressed his case, Caddell asserted in an interview.
"The big surprise in the government's case is that it's so weak. Seven people have testified for the government so far, and not one of them has been able to testify that the Davidians fired first on Feb. 28," Caddell said.
"We didn't go into this expecting an ATF agent to get up there admitting or confessing that they fired the first shot, but what we've gotten is that the great preponderance of the evidence so far shows that," he said.
The plaintiffs are trying to prove that the ATF agents' indiscriminate gunfire triggered the bloodshed on the first day of the standoff and that the FBI was reckless in its final stages--both by rushing into the compound with tanks to deliver tear gas on April 19, 1993, and by failing to have firefighting equipment on hand.
To be sure, the first two weeks of the trial have had some emotional moments.
Branch Davidian Clive Doyle, a survivor of the fire and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, talked passionately about how he devoted himself totally to Koresh because "we believe that God was speaking through him." He wept as he recalled losing his 18-year-old daughter in the fire. "I live with this every day," he said.
But under pointed cross-examination by the government, Doyle--whom authorities believe may have helped start the fire--was forced to acknowledge that he had rescued his dog from the burning building but hadn't tried to find his daughter before she died.
The government's case offered some poignant moments as well, as when ATF agent Kris Mayfield recounted the unexpected barrage of gunfire that met him and his fellow agents from the Davidian building as they approached the door on Feb. 28 to serve warrants on Koresh.
Mayfield was asked what he saw after a cease-fire was declared. "I saw Steve Willis, a friend of mine. I wasn't able to talk to him. He was dead," Mayfield said. Three other ATF agents also were killed in the gunfight, along with six Davidians.
As testimony continues this week, the government is expected to shift its focus from the "ambush" faced by ATF agents on Feb. 28 to the ferocious blaze that began just after noon on April 19.
Government attorneys will try to demonstrate, as they have maintained for years, that the Davidians torched the compound themselves in a mass suicide rather than leave peacefully.
Hours earlier, the FBI had begun tear-gassing the compound because they had been unable to reach a negotiated solution and said they were convinced that no end was in sight with Koresh.
Moreover, the FBI had "no duty to rescue the plaintiffs" from a fire that they themselves set, the government argued in a court filing last week. "No such duty exists under Texas law," and as a result the Davidians' arguments that the FBI should have had a fire plan in place at the conclusion of the standoff is a moot point, government lawyers asserted.
Key testimony in the trial could come this week if two central players at Mount Carmel near Waco--FBI Hostage Rescue Team commander Richard Rogers and FBI regional chief Jeffrey Jamar--are called to the witness stand.
Both men have drawn criticism from the Davidians for allegedly breaking from the plan approved by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno in their execution of the tear-gassing.
Mrozek, the Justice Department spokesman, said last week that "we are considering [calling both men] but have not made a final decision yet."
Two Witnesses May Shed Light
Testimony from Rogers and Jamar, now both retired, might help the government answer several key questions from the April 19 operation--including why the FBI decided to use tanks ahead of schedule to help spread the tear gas that day; and why, once the fire broke out, they believed it was too dangerous to allow firefighters near the compound.
Reno said in a sworn deposition in March that the FBI officials on the ground at Mount Carmel had the discretion to carry out the tear-gassing operation as they saw fit and that she would not second-guess their decisions.
Testimony resumes Wednesday after the July 4 holiday, and attorneys say it could conclude as early as this week or next.
In an unusual setup, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr. is using a five-member jury to give him an advisory verdict on whether the government is liable in the Davidians' deaths. The final determination will rest with him.
If the government is found liable, the judge would then consider financial damages.

"Member of jury that convicted Davidians criticizes U.S. agents"

by Terry Ganey ("St. Louis Post-Dispatch," July 3, 2000)

WACO, TEXAS - The forewoman of the jury that convicted Branch Davidians of criminal charges believes the federal government was mostly responsible for the deaths and injuries that occurred at Waco in 1993.
Sarah Bain, the juror, says that the Davidians who were convicted are paying for crimes with prison sentences. And she said the time has come for the government to pay for its actions, too, through the civil trial that resumes Wednesday in Waco.
"I'm waiting for the balance of responsibility to be weighed," said Bain, a retired teacher from San Antonio. She believes that individual defendants should have been included in the suit, including government officials who planned the initial raid on the Davidians' complex as well as the tear gas assault to evict them.
"I think they are the ones who used poor judgment," she said.
Davidian survivors and relatives of some of the 80 people who died have sued the government for hundreds of millions of dollars. They claim actions by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Federal Bureau of Investigation contributed to the deaths and injuries.
Bain agrees. She showed up in federal court last week as an observer.
During a break in the testimony, she said she believed the federal government was 75 percent responsible for what happened, while the Davidians caused 25 percent.
"That percentage should be finally judged so justice is established," Bain said. "It has always been in my mind they who did the provoking should have their day in court."
Government lawyers, who are defending against the Davidians' claims, have argued that the real culprit was David Koresh, the sect's leader. Davidians believed him to be God incarnate. He had so much control that several of the women in the sect believed it was a spiritual privilege to bear his children as if brides of God.
In 1994 Bain was one of 16 jurors (12 jurors and four alternates) who heard seven weeks of evidence and testimony in the criminal trial of 11 Davidians in San Antonio. The sect members had been charged with murder or conspiracy to murder ATF agents who raided the sect's Mount Carmel complex Feb. 28.
The agents were serving warrants to arrest Koresh and search for illegal automatic weapons. Four agents and six Davidians were killed in the raid, which led to a 51-day standoff before the fiery end to the siege on April 19, 1993.
After the jury's four alternates were dismissed, Bain was voted the forewoman. After four days of deliberations, the jury reached a compromise verdict. It exonerated all 11 defendants of conspiracy and murder, but found seven of them guilty of manslaughter. It also found them guilty of carrying a firearm during the commission of a federal offense.
In an interview, Bain said it was never clearly established why the ATF needed 76 agents to raid the complex military style when it seemed that Koresh could have been arrested while he was out jogging. She said she suspected the agency needed favorable publicity at a time when its budget was in jeopardy.
"That was hinted at during the trial," she said. Another issue, she said, was the fact that the raid commanders went ahead with their plan even though they knew the element of surprise had been lost. A group of ATF agents later shared in a $15 million settlement from a Waco newspaper, television station and ambulance company. The agents had sued claiming that actions of the three indirectly contributed to the Davidians' learning that the raid was coming.
Bain had always been upset with the sentences that U.S. District Judge Walter Smith handed the defendants. Smith gave those found guilty of manslaughter the mandatory 10-year prison term. The use of a weapon in the commission of a federal crime brings a five-year sentence.
But Smith ordered additional 30-year sentences on the basis that they had access to automatic weapons, although no one had testified that they had used them. On June 5, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided to reduce the sentences of four Davidians to 15 years from 40 years and reduced the term of a fifth defendant to 15 years from 20 years.
The Supreme Court decision was a step toward balancing the scales of justice, Bain said.
When the government's siege at Waco began, Bain, now 53, was a high school Spanish teacher in New Braunfels, Texas, a town 23 miles northeast of San Antonio. At that time, she believed in her government.
"I would have never questioned anything until something like this came up," she said. At the same time, Bain was "a very big Second Amendment person." As a youngster, she went hunting with her father, and she still believes in gun rights.
Waco has made her more skeptical of government, and the events of Mount Carmel continue to haunt her. When the sentences were appealed, Bain attended the arguments. She has gone to memorial services for the Davidians at the site of the complex, 10 miles outside Waco.
During the 51-day siege, the FBI tried to pressure the Davidians out of their complex using loudspeakers blasting Tibetan chants, the slaughtering of rabbits and rock music. The group's electricity was cut off, effectively depriving them of water since an electric pump brought water from a well.
"Why put a paranoid group through sleep deprivation?" Bain said. "That doesn't seem like a way of making them do what the government wanted. That's more of a way of turning them against government."
Bain said she believes there were two kinds of people in the complex: Koresh and a few of his close lieutenants, and the rest of the people, who were "true believers."
"As off-based as most of their teaching seems to the average public, including me, they were sincere," she said. "Having unique religious beliefs doesn't mean you have to be sacrificed on a pyre."

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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