Davidian wrongful-death trial to resume Wednesday

Waco Tribune-Herald, July 3, 2000
By Mark England

The civil trial in the Branch Davidians' wrongful-death lawsuit against the government will resume Wednesday with more testimony regarding the 1993 raid on Mount Carmel by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Both sides believed their cases were going well as court recessed last Friday for the weekend and July 4th holiday.

"I think the jury gets it," said Houston attorney Mike Caddell, lead plaintiffs attorney. "I think the jury understands that we're not denying responsibility for the bad people at Mount Carmel who did bad things. But I think the jury understands that's not what this lawsuit is about. This is not a replay of the criminal case."

Michael Bradford, co-counsel for the government and the U.S. attorney from Beaumont, likes the government's position going into week three of the civil trial.

"I don't believe they've proved their case at all," Bradford said. "At this point, we're simply putting in additional evidence to prove there's no basis for liability."

Caddell called the witnesses put on by the government last week "irrelevant."

"I think so far the government's witnesses have been better for us than they have been for them," Caddell said. "They've put on a lot of nice people who went through a lot of suffering, but they really don't know anything about the issues in this lawsuit."

Four issues are at stake in the civil trial: 1) Did ATF agents fire indiscriminately during the Feb. 28, 1993 raid? 2) Did the FBI deviate from its plan and begin demolishing Mount Carmel early? 3) Did the FBI contribute to the cause and spread of the April 19, 1993, fire? 4) Should firefighting equipment have been at the scene?

The plaintiffs got a bit of gravy for their case last week when they were allowed to present testimony from hostage negotiators critical of the decision to insert tear gas into Mount Carmel.

U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. initially barred any negotiators' comments made during the siege.

However, Smith allowed comments by Gary Noesner, who coordinated the Mount Carmel hostage negotiation team, to be read to the advisory jury. Noesner said in a government debriefing that tactical officers should have realized poking holes in Mount Carmel would have provoked a violent reaction.

The plaintiffs argue that FBI supervisors deviated from a plan that called for the dismantling of Mount Carmel only if the Davidians did not come out within 48 hours of the tear gas being inserted.

"That was important evidence," Caddell said. "I think we're in good shape."

Bradford said he thinks the plaintiffs have already proved part of the government's case.

"He (Caddell) admitted in his opening that the Davidians had set at least one fire," Bradford said. "And according to their expert, you can't prove anything else about any of the rest of the fires. So what you're left with is the Davidians set the fire."

When the trial resumes, Bradford said the government will present surveillance tapes obtained from bugs planted inside Mount Carmel.

"There are several days prior to the 19th where there are conversations about setting a fire and conversations about other subjects that are relevant as well," Bradford said. "For example, there are conversations on those tapes about the shoot-out with the ATF as well."

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