DALLAS (AP) - The wrongful death suit blaming the government for the fire that ended the 1993 Branch Davidian siege will be decided by a jury and not a federal judge alone.
The decision Friday by U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith comes only weeks before the June 19 start date of the trial.
Federal limits on private lawsuits against the government and its agencies require that most such cases be heard and decided by a judge without a jury. But federal judges have discretion to bring in juries to hear some civil cases.
The Davidians and their families are seeking a multimillion dollar judgment against the government for actions in the showdown that they allege caused the deaths of more that 80 sect members.
Davidian leader David Koresh and his followers died during the inferno that ended the 51-day siege. The government contends they perished at their own hands.
Reached by The Dallas Morning News, attorneys for the government declined to comment Friday.
But attorneys representing the Davidians and families of sect members who died in the siege hailed the judge's move.
"I applaud the judge for doing this," lead attorney Michael Caddell said in Saturday's editions of The Dallas Morning News. "I think the government won't like it."
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