Koresh drilled women, told them to commit suicide in battle, witnesses say

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 6, 2000
By William H. Freivogel

WACO, Texas - David Koresh taught women to fire weapons, drilled them for war, instructed them to commit suicide in battle and took 15 women and girls as his wives, witnesses testified Thursday. In the end, the bodies of these women and children were found on top of rifles in a bunker with hundreds of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

The government presented the testimony in the third week of the trial in which the Branch Davidians seek to blame the government for the death of about 80 members in a fire on April 19, 1993.

A Texas Ranger presented grim pictures showing the barely discernible shapes of bodies of women and children found in a concrete storage bunker that the Branch Davidians used as a weapons cache.

Ranger Lt. Ray Coffman testified that he never had seen such a big arsenal of weapons and ammunition as he found in the bunker. "There were more assault weapons in there than when I visited Camp Mabry," he said, referring to the Texas National Guard headquarters.

Coffman found 133 weapons in the small bunker, 22 of them under the bodies. When he rolled over the body of one woman, "a grenade fell out from her waist," he testified.

The government is trying to counter the Davidians' claim that women and children were not involved in armed attacks on government agents.

Justice Department attorneys bolstered that case by reading the testimony of one of Koresh's wives, Dana Okimoto, a psychiatric nurse from Hawaii. She testified that Koresh taught all women to shoot and showed war movies, like "Hamburger Hill," to prepare them for the war that he believed the Bible prophesied. He also convinced her that she should commit suicide if she were captured in that war and was about to be raped.

Koresh showed her guns on the stage of the chapel, apparently including the 5-foot-long, .50-caliber gun known as the "Bear."

Asked about Koresh's mental health, Okimoto testified, "As a mental health professional, I believe he probably belonged in a hospital somewhere."

She left the complex about a year before the siege began.

Earlier in the day, government lawyers showed jurors the burnt remnants of some of the more than 360 rifles, machine guns, pistols and grenades that the Branch Davidians turned on government agents. The arsenal included 48 rifles that had been illegally modified to become fully automatic.

But the lead lawyer for the Branch Davidians, Mike Caddell, quickly turned the tables on the government, suggesting that the FBI had tampered with the evidence in the hours immediately after the fire.

Caddell's questions apparently had an impact on the advisory jury. The only question it asked based on a morning of testimony was what had happened to a missing front door to the Branch Davidians' complex. The Davidians have claimed that the missing door had only incoming bullet holes, suggesting that agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had fired indiscriminately into the complex during the Feb. 28 raid that began the siege.

"I have no idea," replied Lt. James L. Miller, the Texas Ranger who was in charge of collecting evidence. "We collected what we found. If there was a second door to be collected, we would have collected it."

Mike Bradford, the U.S. attorney from Beaumont, Texas, said outside of court that he can't do much to allay the jury's concerns about the door. "There is no evidence the government did anything with that door. It's just missing," he said. Under cross-examination, Miller said FBI and ATF munitions experts had searched the scene in the hours right after the fire and before he and other Rangers began collecting evidence. Miller said federal prosecutors and the FBI determined what evidence was sent to the FBI lab for testing.

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