The first casualties at Mount Carmel were neither cult members nor federal agents: They were five dogs. The biggest one was an 80-pound brown malamute named Fawn. The rest were Fawn's 10-month-old puppies.
The animals' demise has become a central issue in the Branch Davidians' $675 million lawsuit against the federal government because the shooting of the dogs apparently led to the ferocious Feb. 28, 1993 gun battle that left 10 people dead, including four agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and six Davidians. Ever since the shootout, the Davidians and the government have been
arguing over which side shot first. And the picture emerging from the trial, now entering its third week, is that when the ATF began killing the dogs, the Davidians believed they were being attacked and began returning fire.
In testimony Wednesday, ATF agent Ken Latimer described the scene at Mount Carmel shortly after he exited a cattle trailer in front of the building. Latimer, who was riding in the second of the two cattle trailers used by the ATF, told the half-full courtroom that he heard sporadic gunfire near the entrance to the building shortly after he got out of the trailer. "At first I thought it was the dogs being shot," Latimer said. A few seconds later, Latimer said a volley of gunfire erupted from inside Mount Carmel.
Latimer's testimony is consistent with that of several other ATF agents who have testified during the government's defense presentation. The agents have all testified that they first heard a series of single shots and then a barrage of gunfire that included automatic weapons. The Davidians had a large number of automatic weapons at Mount Carmel that included AK-47s and M-16s. The ATF agents did not have any automatic rifles that day.
There has also been extensive discussion of the duties of the ATF's dog team, which was equipped with a fire extinguisher loaded with carbon dioxide intended to scare the dogs away. The dog team also carried shotguns loaded with buckshot. If the fire extinguisher didn't subdue the dogs, the team members were to kill the animals.
Just before Latimer took the stand, ATF agent Gerald Petrilli testified that he first heard a series of single gunshots shortly after he left the lead trailer. Seconds later, he told the court that as he approached the front door of Mount Carmel, he shot a "rather ferocious, large dog" with his 9mm pistol. But under cross-examination by Michael Caddell, the lead attorney for the Davidians, Petrilli, who was not part of the dog team, testified that he could not be certain that he had hit the dog with his 9mm sidearm. "Can I swear I hit the dog?" said Petrilli. "No. But I'd be surprised if I missed."
Other testimony came from ATF agent Gary Orchowski, who told the court that he heard intense gunfire seconds after leaving the first cattle trailer. But under cross-examination, Orchowski admitted that he first heard intermittent gunfire. And Caddell introduced a statement by Orchowski that he gave to the Texas Rangers on March 9, 1993. In that statement, Orchowski said that after he got out of the trailer, he saw a puff of smoke near the front door of Mount Carmel that looked like gas from a fire extinguisher being used by the dog team. "When that didn't work," Orchowski told the Rangers, "they were forced to shoot" the dogs.
Last week, Clive Doyle, one of just nine Davidians who escaped from the burning ruins of Mount Carmel on April 19, 1993, testified that when the ATF shot the dogs, the people inside the building became angry. "Shooting at our dogs is the same as shooting at us," Doyle said. "It was the beginning of a war."
While the dogs appear to be the reason the gun battle began, none of the witnesses who have yet testified has been able to say definitively which side was the first to shoot at humans.
Also on Wednesday, Dan Mulloney, a former photographer for KWTX-TV in Waco who was one of only two noncombatants to see the Feb. 28 shootout, told reporters that the government had subpoenaed him and planned to have him testify. But according to Mulloney, during a two-hour meeting with U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford on Tuesday night, Bradford changed his mind.
The reason, said Mulloney, is that he was going to tell the court that he saw one of the three National Guard helicopters used during the raid come within 75 yards of the building. He was also going to testify that one of the choppers hovered just a few feet off the ground near Mount Carmel shortly before the gunfire began. "They're hiding something about the helicopters," Mulloney told reporters outside the courthouse.
Mulloney's statements about the helicopters were partially supported by the KWTX reporter who was with him that day, John McLemore. Last Friday, McLemore testified that the choppers flew directly over Mount Carmel and came within 100 yards of the building.
Last week, the government put the three National Guard helicopter pilots who flew the aircraft on the witness stand. All three pilots testified that the choppers never flew directly over the building and all of them stayed at least 300 yards away from the building. They all testified there was never any gunfire from the helicopters. The Davidians have always insisted there was gunfire from the helicopters.
If there was gunfire, it would be a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. The law prohibits the military from acting as a police force against civilians and authorizes fines and prison terms for anyone who "willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus to make arrests or otherwise to execute the laws."
After testimony ended for the day, U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford, who is leading the government's defense team, dismissed Mulloney's charges. "We didn't think his testimony was necessary," said Bradford. "So we decided not to use him."
WACO, Texas -- Government lawyers showed jurors on Thursday the burnt remnants of some of the more than 360 weapons that the Branch Davidians turned on government agents during the 1993 siege at the sect's complex near Waco.
But the lead lawyer for the Branch Davidians, Mike Caddell, quickly turned the tables on the government. While conceding that the Davidians had an arsenal of guns, he suggested that the FBI may have tampered with the evidence in the hours directly after the April 19 fire that destroyed the complex and left about 80 Branch Davidians dead.
Caddell's questions had an impact on the jury. The only question it asked based on a morning of testimony was what had happened to a missing front door to the complex. The Davidians have claimed that the missing door had only incoming bullet holes, suggesting that agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had fired indiscriminately into the complex during the Feb. 28 raid that began the siege.
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith put the jury's question to the Texas Ranger who was in charge of collecting evidence, Lt. James L. Miller. "I have no idea, your honor," Miller replied.
Mike Bradford, the U.S. attorney from Beaumont, Texas, said outside of court that there wasn't much he can do to allay the jury's concerns about the missing door. "There is no evidence the government did anything with that door. It's just missing." The other front door to the complex is in evidence. It had 13 bullet holes, nine from the inside and four from the outside.
The trial of the Branch Davidians' civil suit against the government is in its third week. The Branch Davidians claim the government should be held responsible for the Davidians' deaths.
The government called Lt. Miller to impress on the jury the size of the Davidians' arsenal. He had catalogued 360 weapons, including 52 machine guns. About 65 of the weapons, including nine of the machine guns were in the rooms that lined the front of the complex.
In testimony on Wednesday, ATF agents had described about a barrage of gunfire that the Branch Davidians directed at them from the windows of those rooms on Feb. 28, when agents attempted to serve a search warrant on the Branch Davidians for possession of illegal firearms.
The largest number of weapons -- 144, including 36 machine guns -- were found in a small storage area where the Davidians stored both food and weapons. Many of the women and children who died in the fire were found in that area. The Davidians also had more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition, Lt. Miller said.
During cross-examination, Lt. Miller said that FBI and ATF munitions experts had searched the scene in the hours right after the fire. The Rangers began collecting evidence after that.
Lt. Miller testified that he generally found the FBI to be accurate in its lab work, but said that the Rangers had found some mistakes in the FBI's work on the Waco crime scene. He also could not account for what happened to a pyrotechnic tear gas projectile that was photographed at the scene, but did not turn up in the evidence. "I saw the photo, but do not recall the item," he said.
Lt. Miller said that government prosecutors and the FBI determined what evidence was sent to the FBI lab for testing.
During his cross-examination, Caddell exhibited one of the rifles that had partially melted from the heat of the fire. "You can imagine what that fire did to flesh," Caddell said.
WACO, Texas (Reuters) - Texas Rangers on Thursday testified that about 300 guns, including assault rifles and machineguns, were found in the charred remains of the Branch Davidian compound after it burned at the end of federal siege in 1993.
The state police investigators testified in the second week of a $675 million lawsuit brought by Branch Davidian survivors and family members against the U.S. government, who charge the government was to blame for the deaths of about 80 sect members.
Lt. James Miller of the Texas Rangers, who were charged with collecting the evidence after the fatal fire, said the weapons found included 60 M-16 machine guns, 60 AK-47 assault rifles and 30 AR-15 assault rifles.
The five-member advisory jury was shown numerous pictures of the weapons and ammunition found at the site, but only five actual weapons were shown in court. Each of those appeared to be partly melted and several had twisted, burned ammunition casings stuck to them.
The plaintiffs have not contested that the guns belonged to the Davidians. But sect members testified earlier that the weapons were collected for sale at gun shows to raise funds for the religious group.
Rangers Lt. Ray Coffman testified he found some 400,000 rounds of ``cooked off'' or exploded ammunition in a concrete bunker after the April 19 conflagration, which broke out several hours after FBI agents began a tear gas and tank assault on the compound in an effort to end a 51-day stand-off.
Coffman said 133 weapons were discovered inside the bunker, 111 stacked against the walls.
According to FBI reports presented by government attorneys, 46 of the weapons had been converted to fully automatic firing capability, making them illegal to own without a permit from the federal government.
It was legal to own the weapons in 1993 if they were not converted from semi-automatic firing, Coffman said in response to questions from Pat Caddell, one of the attorneys representing the pool of about 100 plaintiffs.
The siege was triggered by a gunfight that erupted when U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents raided the rural compound outside Waco to arrest Branch Davidian leader David Koresh on weapons charges. Koresh died in the final fire.
The plaintiffs charge the government used excessive force in the initial raid, that the FBI assault on the final day caused the fatal fires and that the government wrongly kept firefighters away from the blazing compound.
Government lawyers argue the Branch Davidians set the fires themselves and started the gunfight at the outset by firing on the ATF agents.
The advisory jury will render a verdict but the the final decision is up to U.S. District Judge Walter Smith.
WACO, Texas - Like a general attacking the weakest part of the enemy line, government lawyers are attacking the weakest link in the Branch Davidians' wrongful death lawsuit.
Justice Department attorneys are focusing on the beginning of the 51-day standoff, when four agents died, rather than the end - when about 80 Davidians perished.
As the trial entered its third week, the government continued to call a parade of agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who described the furious fusillade of automatic weapons fire they encountered on Feb. 28, 1993. More ATF agents will testify today.
Meanwhile, Justice Department lawyers say it is now doubtful they will call Jeff Jamar and Dick Rogers, the two FBI commanders who were in charge of the final onslaught on the compound weeks later that ended in the fatal fire. The idea, one Justice Department official said, is to stress the part of the case where the government is strongest.
Wednesday's testimony was designed to show that at least some of the women and children in the complex had a hand in the violence and that ATF agents did not shoot indiscriminately during the initial raid.
Jacob S. Mabe, who was nine at the time, testified on videotape that his mother had taught him how to load bullets into rifle magazines. On Feb. 28, as the gunfire raged outside, Mabe, his mother and siblings were loading magazines that were being passed on to the Davidians who were firing on pinned-down government agents.
He also testified that David Koresh, the leader of the sect, had conducted Bible study sessions that went into the night during which he referred to himself as Jesus Christ and at which he displayed a gun.
The government read into the record the testimony of Donald E. Bunds, a retired aerospace engineer who said he had helped to convert about 100 rifles to a fully automatic state on the orders of Koresh, the Davidian leader who died in the fire on April 19, 1993.
Bunds testified that Koresh ordered him to buy a milling machine used to covert the guns. Koresh also talked to Bunds about building a machine gun and about turning model airplanes into weapons to attack tanks, projects that did not work out.
Bunds testified that Koresh began bringing weapons to the Bible studies in the months before the assault and talked increasingly about a final battle with the government.
The five ATF agents who testified on Wednesday said that they heard automatic gunfire as they took their first steps toward the complex to serve the search warrant for illegal weapons.
Gerald Petrilli, a veteran ATF agent, said he had only taken half a dozen steps before "the entire front of the compound erupted in gunfire."
"I saw muzzle flashes out of the windows and curtains puffing out, all indicative of gunfire," he said, identifying 10 windows and a door from which he saw signs of gunfire.
Petrilli testified he was injured by a grenade, suffering 47 puncture wounds to his arm. He also was shot in the chest.
Mike Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Branch Davidians, stressed that Petrilli and the other ATF agents who testified were not among the first agents off the trailers that transported them to the complex. Caddell suggested that the first agents on the scene could have initiated the gunfire.
WACO David Koresh grew "militant" just before his sect's bloody standoff with the government, ordering followers to make grenades, silencers and machine guns and predicting a shootout with authorities, a former Branch Davidian testified Wednesday.
In the months before the 1993 siege, Donald Bunds said in deposition testimony read to jurors, the self-proclaimed messiah also taught followers to expect a violent end and his death at the hands of outside enemies.
"He was almost 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. "It was going to happen to him and his group, and they were going to join him in his battle."
Mr. Bunds an engineer who by chance left the compound only minutes before a gunfight broke out there with Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents also 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.
But he also said he never saw any working machine guns assembled from the 100 parts he machined. He added that many of the other projects commissioned by Mr. Koresh in the days leading up to the standoff including plans to rig model airplanes with anti-tank explosives, build anti-tank rockets and reinforce the sect's compound never worked.
"Mostly everything he did failed," Mr. Bunds said.
The testimony was presented as government lawyers continued defending ATF and FBI actions in the 1993 standoff. Lawyers for the sect have charged in a $675 million wrongful-death suit that ATF agents used excessive force in a gunfight that began the siege and that FBI agents violated Washington-approved plans for trying to end the standoff.
Opening the trial's third week, government lawyers played a videotaped deposition in which a former Branch Davidian described loading magazines with bullets during the initial gunfight with ATF. Jacob Mabb, who was 9 at the time of the incident, said he went with his mother and three siblings to a room filled with guns and boxes of and ammunition and loaded magazines. He said the magazines then were taken away by armed sect members during the Feb.. 28, 1993, gunbattle.
Like Mr. Bunds, Mr. Mabb testified that Mr. Koresh taught followers that he was Jesus Christ. Mr. Mabb said he left the compound after the gunfight only because he was given permission to leave by Mr. Koresh.
The government also called four more ATF agents Monday to describe the horrific gunfight that broke out as they tried to search the compound and arrest Mr. Koresh on weapons charges. Four ATF agents and six sect members died that day.
Like the three agents called last week, ATF witnesses called Monday offered gripping stories of crouching behind car bumpers, dirt piles and flimsy fences as a wall of bullets came at them through the compound's windows, walls and doors. Contradicting earlier testimony from some Branch Davidians, the agents said they saw gunfire flashing from almost every upstairs window including a window where sect members claim one Branch Davidian woman was killed without provocation during the firefight.
"There was no way for us to simply get up and walk out without simply being slaughtered," said ATF Agent Gerald Petrilli, who sustained 47 shrapnel wounds. "We were stuck there. And not only were we stuck there, we knew that no one was going to go up that driveway to help us."
But like their colleagues who appeared last week, Mr. Petrilli and the other agents who testified Monday could not say who started the shooting. Most conceded that they initially thought the first pops of gunfire came from agents assigned to control the Branch Davidians' dogs.
Plaintiffs' lawyer Michael Caddell repeatedly accused Mr. Petrilli of altering his earlier accounts of the gunfight and what wounded him.
In a March 1993 statement to the Texas Rangers and in testimony in a 1994 criminal trial, Mr. Petrilli said he believed he'd been hit by buckshot from a .12-gauge shotgun. Noting that the agent heard shotguns being fired only by ATF agents, Mr. Caddell suggested repeatedly that Mr. Petrilli could've been hit by shotgun blasts from agents watching compound dogs.
But the agent said he was certain he had been wounded by a hand grenade thrown from the compound, noting that the pieces of metal pulled from his arms were irregularly shaped shards, not uniformly rounded slugs.
The Houston lawyer also got Mr. Petrilli and another agent who helped lead the ATF "special response teams" that spearheaded the raid to acknowledge that ATF's final preparations for their Feb. 28 operation included battlefield medical training from U.S. Army Special Forces medics.
Medical training given
Mr. Petrilli and retired Houston Agent Ken Lattimer each testified that Army medics met their agents at Fort Hood on the eve of the raid and taught them how to treat gunshot wounds, including by "sucking chest wounds," and field administration of intravenous or IV fluids. They said their contingency planning also included calling in local ground ambulances and two Careflight helicopters from Fort Worth to be on standby during the raid.
Under government questioning, Mr. Lattimer and Mr. Petrilli each said they expected no resistance worse than fist fights, and Mr. Lattimer said he believed the medical classes were "for practice." But Mr. Petrilli said under cross-examination that ATF originally asked for the U.S. Army to send Bradley Fighting Vehicles to use in the raid.
Defense Department records indicate that the request for eight Bradleys was quickly denied because of federal limitations on military involvement in domestic police actions. The records indicate that Defense Department officials also rejected a simultaneous ATF request to send specialized military medical teams to the Waco raid for "on-site trauma medical support.
"The records state that two Special Forces medics who gave ATF agents pre-raid medical classes were asked by agents to join the raid but that they declined because of federal restrictions on the military.
Mr. Lattimer also conceded on cross-examination that he had never trained with special forces personnel for any other ATF operation and had never before seen agents preparing for a raid instructed on giving IVs.
More from agents
Government lawyers said after Wednesday's proceedings that they will offer more testimony from ATF agents on Thursday. But they expect to turn by week's end to the FBI's final tear-gas assault on the compound April 19, 1993. More than 80 Branch Davidians died when the compound burned about six hours into the gas assault.
Lawyers for the sect and relatives of those who died have alleged that the FBI's two commanders in Waco violated orders when they decided against fighting a fire if one broke out during the tear-gas assault. Their lawsuit also alleges that the two commanders, former FBI Agents Jeffrey Jamar and Richard Rogers, also violated a Washington-approved plan and possibly touched off the fire when they sent tanks deep into the building.
Government lawyers say that all federal actions were proper and that sect members alone caused the fires and massive loss of life.
U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford of Beaumont, one of the government's lead lawyers, had promised jurors in his opening statement that Mr. Jamar and Mr. Rogers would testify.
But he told reporters Wednesday that the two men probably will not be called to the trial. None of the ATF's raid commanders have been called as witnesses, just as neither they nor the FBI's leadership was called by the government to testify in the 1994 Branch Davidian criminal trial.
"We don't think it's necessary," Mr. Bradford said.
An agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms testified Wednesday that he heard automatic gunfire as soon as he stepped out of a cattle trailer at Mount Carmel on Feb. 28, 1993.
"The first gunfire I heard was fully automatic," agent Sam Cohen testified. "I thought we were in a real bad situation because we didn't have any with us."
The Branch Davidians' $675 million wrongful-death lawsuit against the government resumed Wednesday after a break for the July 4th holiday.
The ATF only had rifles that could fire two-round bursts, several agents testified.
Agent Gerald Petrilli told U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. and a five-member advisory jury of being tracked by an automatic rifle as he tried moving along a fence. Other agents eventually asked him to quit moving, he said.
"I was drawing so much gunfire, some of which was impacting around them," Petrilli said.
Government co-counsel Michael Bradford showed a videotape to display the firepower of an AK-47 automatic rifle. It reduced a cinder block to rubble.
Mike Caddell, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, questioned the extent of the automatic gunfire at Mount Carmel, however. He showed Petrilli a photograph taken during the raid of the fence that he hid behind. It appeared to have a brick base.
"I think we can agree that it has holes in it, but it's not demolished, is it?" Caddell asked.
"No, sir, not at all," Petrilli said.
Agent Ken Latimer, now retired, testified that he saw clear evidence of the Davidian firepower. He described the shot that killed agent Robert Williams as powerful enough to plow through his helmet and leave "residue" coming out of the back.
Four ATF agents and five Davidians died during the attempted raid.
Cohen testified that he, too, saw Williams shot.
"I thought, 'He still hasn't moved. God I wish he would move,'" Cohen said.
ATF agents described the gunfire that greeted them at Mount Carmel as "massive" and "amazing."
"At first, there was sporadic shooting," Petrilli testified. "Then the entire front of the compound erupted in gunfire."
Cohen, who said the amount of gunfire was "amazing," testified, "The wood was just flying off the walls as the rounds came through them."
Another agent, Gary Orchowski, testified he heard a "massive" amount of gunfire after taking a few steps out of one of the cattle trailers that carried the ATF agents to the front of Mount Carmel.
"The best way I could describe it is being in a hail storm inside a building with a tin roof," Orchowski said.
Caddell, however, all but accused some ATF agents of changing their stories over the years.
He gave Orchowski a transcript of his 1993 interview with the Texas Rangers. Orchowski said then he thought the first shots came from agents shooting the dogs at Mount Carmel, and he didn't realize that he was under fire until almost reaching his designated position at an underground bunker.
"That's quite a different story, isn't it?" Caddell asked.
Several agents who testified Wednesday were wounded during the shoot-out. Petrilli was wounded in the arms and the chest.
Petrilli said he had 47 entry wounds in his arms, blaming them on being hit by a grenade.
"It appeared to be shrapnel," Petrilli told government attorney Steve Yarosh.. "... Many of them (fragments) were removed from my arms. Many of them are still in my arms."
Caddell, however, suggested that Petrilli might have been the victim of friendly fire specifically by the ATF team assigned to take out the Davidians' dogs. The team carried shotguns. Caddell brought up Petrilli's testimony from the 1994 criminal trial of 11 Branch Davidians, when Petrilli said he was hit in the arms by either an explosive device or a shotgun round..
Petrilli, however, insisted that the shrapnel was irregularly shaped, which he said was not typical of shotgun pellets.
A man staying at Mount Carmel in 1993 testified that David Koresh began readying the Davidians for a showdown with the government months before the ATF raid.
Don Bunds, a California engineer, said Koresh had him do part of the work necessary to convert AR-15 rifles from semi-automatic to automatic. Bunds, in a written deposition read to the court, said he worked on about 90 rifles.
Plaintiffs attorney Cynthia Chapman, however, countered by having testimony read where Bunds said that he only saw enough parts to make one automatic AR-15.
Bunds testified that Koresh became militant in the months before the ATF raid, equating the federal government with Babylon or "the enemy," and talked about a showdown between the Davidians and the government.
"He thought this was an inevitable thing," Bunds said.
To prepare, Koresh had men pour concrete two feet high into the walls of Mount Carmel and asked him about the possibility of using toy airplanes as weapons, Bunds testified.
"He wanted to fly them into oncoming tanks and destroy them," said Bunds, a one-time pilot. "He wanted to put a bomb in them."
Bunds said he told Koresh the planes were too hard to control to serve that purpose.
Chapman pointed out several contradictions in Bunds' testimony. For example, Bunds, in one part of his deposition, said Koresh considered "the Beast" to be the Roman Catholic Church and not the government. He also said that Koresh never talked about the world ending.
ATF agents continued to maintain Wednesday they weren't expecting a shootout when they arrived at Mount Carmel.
Yarosh asked Petrilli about the Mighty Men, the Branch Davidians chosen to guard the secret of Koresh's many wives.
"They were the male leaders so to speak of the Branch Davidians," Petrilli said. "We thought they would probably resist us physically with fisticuffs when we came in."
Caddell, however, asked former agent Latimer if he had previously received training from special forces' medics on treating "sucking" chest wounds.
"Not since I was in the military," Latimer said.
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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