|Overview of Davidian Massacre|
|by Carol Moore|
Few Americans realize that on February 28, 1993 when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms ("BATF") agents in National Guard helicopters zoomed in on the Branch Davidians' church and home, Mount Carmel Center, they did so with guns blazing, like Americans raiding a Vietnamese village in that far off war. Davidians claim such firing killed four people. David Koresh's unarmed father-in-law, who stood with him at the front door while the unarmed Koresh begged BATF agents to back off, was mortally wounded by gunfire from BATF agents on the ground. These agents shot wildly and threw grenades at the building for more than an hour, even as Davidians called "911" to beg for a ceasefire. BATF snipers later assassinated one Davidian as he tried to reenter Mount Carmel to join his family.
In his conversation with a "911" operator soon after the raid Koresh stated: "You need to call the President of the United States and explain to him what you have done. You've ruined this country. You've ruined the nation. This is a democracy, supposedly, a republic." (Koresh had invited BATF agents to inspect his weapons six months before and provided them with full documentation.) Both Koresh and BATF agents knew that if Mount Carmel, whose bullet ridden roofs and walls contained evidence of the vicious and illegal helicopter attack, was left standing, the Davidians probably would be acquitted of murder of federal agents by a sympathetic jury. In fact, survivors were acquitted of all murder charges! Even worse, BATF agents could face prosecution and imprisonment for negligent or intentional homicide in the deaths of the unarmed Davidians.
Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") agents in Waco befriended and sympathized with BATF agents who had seen four comrades killed and 20 wounded. It is likely FBI agents deliberately sabotaged negotiations with Davidians to prevent their exiting Mount Carmel. Their goal was to destroy the building and its damaging evidence, even if that meant the massacre of dozens of men, women and children, all witnesses to the brutal attack.
The FBI belittled the Davidians' belief that the unprecedented BATF attack on their international, multiracial community was a sign from God that Davidians must warn all humanity that this was the last chance to hear God's word and save their souls. And as FBI tanks destroyed other evidence of the BATF attack, the FBI refused to allow the media or, at first, Davidian attorneys to verify Davidians' claim that BATF bullets shot from helicopters riddled the walls and ceilings. For weeks the FBI sabotaged negotiations through lies, threats and insults, destruction of property, shining of bright lights, blaring of loud music and violent sounds, and terrifying helicopter overflights and fake tank rammings. Nevertheless, on April 14, 1993 David Koresh issued a written promise that all 84 Davidians would surrender as soon as he finished writing a short book on the Seven Seals. Despite Koresh's making substantial progress towards that goal, on April 19, 1993 the FBI began a massive assault upon Mount Carmel Center.
Knowing Davidians would refuse to be forced from their home, the FBI used its tanks systematically to turn Mount Carmel into a lethal fire trap. Tanks collapsed the trap door leading to the underground tornado shelter and all three staircases. Tanks rammed a concrete room sheltering dozens of Davidians until the ceiling collapsed, killing women and children before the fire. Long booms saturated the building with flammable gas, probably mixed with flammable solvents. Tanks collapsed most of the building's big gymnasium and vented the building with other large holes that ensured the wind would race the fire through the long hallways and crawl spaces. Right before noon the FBI began demolishing the building even though it knew it was filled with flammable cooking and heating fuels and lighted lanterns. All fires started within two to three minutes of the times that tanks rammed those areas. There is some evidence FBI agents also shot incendiary "flash-bang" grenades into at least one area just before a fire started there. The FBI has provided no convincing evidence of "mass suicide."
Attorney General Janet Reno and the Justice Department were not content with murdering 82 Davidians, 61 of them women and children. They were intent upon prosecuting and punishing the few survivors whose "crime" was defending themselves against an unprovoked paramilitary assault -- and believing that assault was a sign from God. Luckily for Janet Reno, the trial judge was pro-government and already under investigation by the Justice Department on charges of lying under oath. Prosecutors themselves had been deeply involved in the BATF and FBI assaults and massacres.
During the trial of 11 Branch Davidians Judge Walter Smith illegally manipulated the choice of jurors and prohibited defense attorneys from asking crucial questions, introducing vital evidence, or calling critical witnesses to prove Davidians acted in self-defense, including against helicopters. Prosecutors repeatedly withheld evidence that might have exonerated defendants, including regarding illegal BATF shooting on February 28th, identification of a defendant, the sabotage of negotiations, and the April 19th fire. And prosecutors intimidated or unduly influenced witnesses -- including a Davidian bullied into turning state's evidence. Prosecutors were unfazed by the FBI and coroner's destruction or falsification of evidence. And they forbade defense attorneys from adequately inspecting allegedly illegal weapons. (BATF agents frequently turn legal semiautomatic weapons into illegal automatics to win convictions.)
Despite the judge and prosecutors' best efforts, however, the carefully screened jury accepted the self-defense argument and found the eleven Davidians innocent of the most serious charges of conspiracy to murder and aiding and abetting murder of federal agents. Three were set free immediately. Jurors since have admitted most of them believed Davidians should do little or no prison time beyond time served.
However, because Judge Smith's instructions to the jurors included no defense for "aiding and abetting voluntary manslaughter," jurors felt compelled to find five guilty of what they thought was a "minor charge" that would earn Davidians little jail time. And misunderstanding the judge's instructions, jurors also found seven guilty of another "minor charge" -- using a firearm while committing the crime of conspiracy to murder federal agents -- despite their finding defendants innocent of that crime. The jury form failed to specify that the charge was tied only to murder. Because of this error, the judge initially "set aside" the weapons verdict, telling defense attorneys there was no need to send the verdict back to the jury which only could change it to innocent. However, a week later the judge "reinstated" the guilty verdict and said it would stand. Defense attorneys are charging "double jeopardy." One Davidian was found guilty of carrying a grenade, though no proof was presented it was live. Another was convicted of conspiracy to manufacture machineguns because prosecutors found he had bought two weapons the FBI alleged were illegally converted. No evidence was presented that he participated in the alleged conversion.
At sentencing the prejudiced Judge Smith, who by now had been cleared in the Justice Department investigation, "threw the book" at the convicted Davidians. Although there was no credible evidence the Davidians had or used automatic weapons, the judge ruled that because the government alleged such weapons were found at the scene, Davidians had "constructive possession" of them. This opinion allowed him to sentence Renos Avraam, Brad Branch, Jaime Castillo, Livingstone Fagan, and Kevin Whitecliff to thirty years, plus ten years for the aiding and abetting manslaughter charge. Taking pity on Ruth Riddle, jailed solely because of his decision to reinstate the weapons charge, the judge sentenced her to five years. He sentenced Graeme Craddock to 20 years for grenade-related charges, Paul Fatta to 15 years for machinegun-related charges and prosecution witness Kathryn Schroeder to three years. Five Davidians are appealing the convictions, demanding new and fairer trials which may yet set them free.
During the January, 1996 appeals oral arguments the federal prosecutor provided no defense of either Judge Smith's failure to provide a self-defense defense or his sentencing the Davidians to an extra 25 years for alleged possession of illegal weapons. If there is any justice, most of them should be freed by the appeals judges! Meanwhile, in the spring of 1996 civil suit attorneys were busily arguing that Judge Smith should not be the judge overseeing the civil trials.
David Koresh's attorney Dick DeGuerin summed up BATF's attitude about the time they planned the raid: "It had looked to them like a dream situation -- a bunch of religious nuts their SWAT teams could practice on. Who'd complain? Who'd care?" Now that the "cold war" is over, the federal government needs internal enemies. Allowing the government to scapegoat any group puts us all at risk.
The 1995 House and Senate Waco hearings did allow the public to find out some of the truths presented above, but they were mostly lost in the continued demonization of David Koresh and the Davidians with lies and exagerations. Congress seemed more interested in protecting the reputation of federal law enforcement than in protecting the American people from law enforcement abuses.
We must continue to press for an independent counsel who will prosecute culpable agents and officials and work to free the Davidian prisoners, five of whom may be locked away for the rest of their lives unless we act. If you would like to join the growing number of individuals and groups becoming involved in the fight for justice and freedom, please contact us.
Committee for Waco Justice
Box 65518, Washington, DC 20035
Or Contact Carol Moore via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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