- DALLAS (Reuters)
- A Texas state commissioner Wednesday said evidence held by Texas Rangers
calls into question U.S. government denials that its agents set off a fatal
fire that ended the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound outside
- Dallas businessman James Francis Jr, chairman of the
three-member Public Safety Commission that oversees the state police, said
he wanted wider public access to the evidence collected by Texas Rangers
investigating the cause of the blaze.
- ``Some of the evidence appears to be problematic and
at least raise legitimate questions'' about how the fire started, Francis
told Reuters in an telephone interview, commenting on reports in Wednesday's
Dallas Morning News.
- Francis declined to say how the evidence might contradict
the U.S. Justice Department's account that the fire was set by Branch Davidian
members. The department has denied claims the flames were ignited by incendiary
ammunition fired by federal agents.
Justice Department dismissed Francis' allegations.
- ``It's nonsense. We know of no evidence to support an
allegation that any incendiary device was fired into the compound on April
19 (1993),'' department spokesman Myron Marlin told Reuters.
- About 80 people inside the Branch Davidian compound died
in the flames and the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)
came under heavy criticism for how they handled the siege, which started
with a shoot-out between ATF agents and Branch Davidians that killed four
agents and six members of the sect.
- Francis said there were three kinds of evidence among
the more than 24,000 pounds of materials gathered by the Texas Rangers
that raised questions in his mind.
- ``One is shells, shell casings, physical things. The
second type of evidence is video and still photographs. The third type
are interviews done there on the spot at the time,'' Francis said.
- Francis said it was time for public access to the evidence,
which he said has been shut off behind a confusion of federal and state
- Texas Rangers were deputized as U.S. marshals to investigate
the cause of the siege.
- As a result, all the evidence collected is held by the
Department of Public Safety, the Texas state police agency that includes
the Rangers, but belongs to the Department of Justice.
- Francis said the DPS sends public requests for access
to the evidence to the Department of Justice. But the Justice Department
sends the requests back, arguing that the Texas agency has physical possession.
- ``Everybody is in a Catch-22, nobody has access to the
evidence,'' he said. ``There is some evidence there that needs to be seen.''
- The DPS has recently asked a federal judge in Waco to
decide who should have custody of the mountains of material and who should
be allowed to see it.
- U.S. District Judge Walter Smith has given the federal
government until early August to file their arguments in the question and
will therefore not rule until after that, Francis said.