Despite drastic and sometimes violent changes in Branch Davidian leadership, a core group of church elders deserves clear title to the land known as Mount Carmel, according to testimony Wednesday.
Testimony in the lawsuit over who deserves to control the 77 acres east of Waco where David Koresh and 75 of his followers died seven years ago should conclude today in Waco's 74th State District Court.
A group of Koresh followers led by Clive Doyle are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They are asking jurors to declare them the rightful trustees of the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association.
"There have been changes in beliefs over the years, changes in mode of operation, changes in presidents and changes in executive council members," Doyle told the jury. "But the same leadership of the church that existed under Ben Roden basically existed under Lois Roden and David Koresh, and they are the plaintiffs in this case."
Also claiming the land are Amo Bishop Roden, who has said she was married "by contract" to former Branch Davidian leader George Roden; Thomas Drake, George Roden's former bodyguard; and Douglas Mitchell, who lived at Mount Carmel in the early 80s before Koresh took control.
Percy Isgitt, a Houston attorney who represents Doyle's group, has urged jurors to dismiss claims arising from the defendants' association with George Roden. Isgitt told jurors that the group headed by Roden's mother, Lois, won a permanent injunction against George Roden in 1979 that barred him from the land and from acting as a church officer.
Doyle survived the April 19, 1993, fire at Mount Carmel and was one of four sect members acquitted of all criminal counts after a 1994 trial in San Antonio. The charges were that the group killed federal agents who had come to arrest Koresh on Feb. 28, 1993.
Judge Alan Mayfield has been cautious during the two-day trial to steer the parties away from delving into the religious beliefs of the Branch Davidians and the various splinter groups that have sprung up around them.
Mitchell asked Doyle on Wednesday morning if his group has not appointed a new president since 1993 because they are waiting for Koresh's resurrection.
That brought an immediate objection from Isgitt, who asked again that the focus of the trial remain on the real estate dispute.
Mayfield reminded the jury of his previous instructions that religion would not be part of the trial. He instructed jurors that they could not consider a person's religious beliefs in evaluating his credibility as a witness.
Isgitt introduced into evidence sworn statements from 79 Branch Davidians around the world who asked the court or the jury to determine that the Koresh followers are the proper trustees over the property.
In other testimony Wednesday, Charles Pace, who said he has been a Branch Davidian since 1973, testified that he dropped his claim to the land two years ago because he thinks the matter should be decided within the church.
Pace, who was called as a witness by Amo Roden, said he is now the leader of a small group called "the Branch, the Lord of Righteousness" and lives in a trailer at Mount Carmel. He said he co-exists peacefully with Doyle's group and has helped renovate a dairy barn at Mount Carmel. The group uses it as a meeting place, he said.
"I withdrew from the suit because I see it as a spiritual matter to be determined by church membership," Pace said. "I told them that to fight it out in court would only turn the whole thing into a fiasco, which is what happened."
Under cross-examination from Isgitt, Pace said that Amo Roden, Mitchell and Drake have never been Branch Davidian trustees, and have never been on the church council.
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