Judge: Gov't OK on Waco Evidence

The Associated Press, May 17, 2000

WACO, Texas -- The FBI may have mishandled some key evidence related to the deadly 1993 Waco siege, but Branch Davidian lawyers failed to prove the government intentionally altered or destroyed any items, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Walter Smith, who is presiding over a wrongful-death lawsuit set to begin June 19, said there is ``no basis'' for him to order the government ``to turn over any additional evidence or to impose sanctions for actions which apparently occurred over seven years ago when the evidence was first collected and collated.''

Lawyers for the Branch Davidians, in a motion filed earlier this year, contended that the government withheld, destroyed or tampered with evidence crucial to their lawsuit.

Michael Caddell, the Davidians' lead counsel, asked Smith to review the complaint and to sanction the government.

During a daylong hearing last month, Smith heard testimony from a pilot and photographer who were at the site on April 19, 1993, as well as audio experts for both sides.

Among other things, plaintiffs contended that some of the Forward Looking Infrared, or FLIR, footage bore signs of the audio having been erased. Caddell said on one tape, someone can be heard asking for the audio to be turned off.

But Smith, in his order, said: ``The evidence does not support erasure, but rather indicates that the audio was never turned on.''

The government, for seven years, has staunchly denied that its agents fired any shots or that it bears any responsibility for the fire that raced through the compound several hours into an FBI tear-gassing operation designed to flush out the Davidians.

Davidian leader David Koresh and some 80 followers died that day, some from the fire, others from gunshot wounds. The government contends they perished by their own hands. The Davidians say the government bears some responsibility.

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