- WACO, Texas (Reuters) - In
a clear victory for the U.S. government, an advisory jury in a $675 million
lawsuit by the Branch Davidians found on Friday that federal agents were
not to blame for the deaths of about 80 sect members in the 1993 Waco siege
- The five-member jury, whose verdict is only a guideline
for U.S. District Judge Walter Smith, took just over two hours to reach
a decision that Davidian lawyers conceded would settle for most Americans
a seven-year debate over who was at fault in the Waco conflagration.
- ``I think this verdict for most of the American people
is the final word. What they will take away from this is that five people
sat on a jury for four weeks and they found the government not guilty,''
Michael Caddell, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, told reporters.
- The lawsuit filed against the U.S. government charged
that federal agents were at least partly responsible for a 51-day armed
standoff at the Davidian compound outside Waco in central Texas and a blaze
that consumed the building after an FBI tank and tear gas assault.
- The suit was filed by surviving Branch Davidians and
relatives of the dead.
- FBI Director Louis Freeh welcomed the verdict, saying
there had been ``a lot of speculation, misinformation and second-guessing''
about the case.
- ``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 these years cannot be overstated,'' Freeh
said in a statement. ``An enormous burden has been lifted from them and
- Latest Round Between Sect And Government
- Government lawyers argued the Davidians and their leader,
David Koresh, bore sole responsibility for starting the stand-off by shooting
at U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents, who raided the property
on Feb. 28, 1993 to arrest Koresh, and for setting the compound ablaze
in a suicidal act of defiance on April 13, 1993.
- It was the latest round of a seven-year battle between
the Davidians and the U.S. government over the Waco siege that led to congressional
inquiries and to criminal trials. A special investigator was named by the
Justice Department last year to look into how federal agents conducted
- ``This has been a tragedy that has gone on for many years
and I hope this puts it to rest,'' U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford said.
- The advisory jury, a special feature of federal civil
suits against the government, sided fully with the government against the
charges of excessive force and negligence.
- Specifically, the jury said that evidence showed the
ATF did not fire indiscriminately during the initial raid, that the FBI
did not cause the fire when its tanks penetrated the compound walls and
did not violate orders by not having firefighters on hand.
- Smith said he would make a final ruling after a hearing
on Aug. 2 on a final issue raised by the Davidian lawsuit -- whether FBI
agents fired on sect members as they tried to flee the burning compound.
That aspect was broken from the trial because a key witness was kept away
- ``The jury has now given me their advice on how they
see the facts in this case. I can use their advice in any manner I see
fit,'' Smith told the court.
- Smith is the same judge who presided over a criminal
trial of five Davidian survivors on weapons charges in 1994. Smith handed
down sentences of between 20 and 40 years, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
last month they must be shortened because Smith improperly applied sentencing
- Several of the roughly 100 plaintiffs said after Friday's
verdict they felt the civil trial was one-sided and Smith was biased against
- ``It was more of us on trial than them,'' said Clive
Doyle, who survived the Waco fire but lost his teenage daughter.
- Some said they wanted to appeal but Caddell, their lead
counsel, told reporters it was too early to decide before the judge reaches
a final verdict.
- Caddell also suggested he may drop the final issue of
FBI gunfire before the Aug. 2 hearing, which would leave the judge free
to reach a final verdict based on the case so far.
- The government denies FBI agents fired at all on the
day of the fire, a charge the plaintiffs have based on flashes of light
on a FBI aerial surveillance video.
- Court-appointed experts, who conducted a test filming
of gunfire in March, have said the results show the flashes on the original
Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) video were caused by by sunlight and heat,
- But the judge put off hearing the issue until the leading
expert from the British firm that did the test, Vector Data Systems, could
fly to the United States after surgery.
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