Jurors retain anonymity

The Dallas Morning News, July 15, 2000
By David McLemore

WACO – When a federal judge read the verdict Friday in the Branch Davidians' $675 million damage suit, the five-member jury had already left the courthouse.

The jurors had been fast in deliberations too, presenting their findings in about two hours and 35 minutes. And throughout the trial, jurors managed to retain the anonymity that marked their four-week service in the landmark civil suit that pitted survivors of the 1993 fiery assault on the Branch Davidian compound against the federal government.

"The jurors have informed me that it is their unanimous decision that they have no desire to talk to anyone, attorneys or news media," said U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith. "They have already left the building and won't be available."

The judge then read the jurors' findings; they found that agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI had not caused the deaths of David Koresh and 80 followers in the final attack on the compound April 19, 1993.

The speed of the jury deliberations was simply a way for the jury to send a message to the Branch Davidians, said plaintiffs' attorney Ramsey Clark.

"It was a verdict unsupported by the truth and the evidence," Mr. Clark said. "They were saying that they didn't like these outsiders, this unpopular and minority religious community. In that sense, they were speaking for the whole Waco community."

The defendants can't take much comfort in knowing that the three-woman, two-man panel's verdict was one in name only, Mr. Clark said.

"The judge can ignore them if he wants, simply not pay attention to their verdict," he said. "That's not likely, but . . . life is full of surprises."

The jurors served only as an advisory panel to Judge Smith, who will issue a final ruling in the civil suit next month.

Federal law requires that civil actions filed against the government must be heard only by a federal judge. But Judge Smith chose to name an advisory panel to assist him because of the notoriety and sensitivity of the tragedy at Waco.

"This jury has been their advice on how to view the facts in the case," Judge Smith said after reading the verdict. "I can use it any way I see fit."

Plaintiffs' attorneys said they weren't surprised at the speed of the jury's deliberations or the verdict.

"The jury's finds are, I think, indicative of the judge's final ruling," said Mike Caddell, lead plaintiffs' attorney. "I believe there will be no judgment against the government. I'd be foolish to predict otherwise."

From the beginning, when jury selection began June 19, Judge Smith ordered that jurors remain anonymous. Six jurors and one alternate were picked out of a pool of 60 people from 13 Central Texas counties. During the trial, two were dismissed for personal reasons.

Throughout the trial, juror names and addresses were not revealed. Of the five remaining, very little is known.

One of the men is a physical education instructor at a Waco elementary school, while the other man works as an aircraft electrician in Bell County.

One of the women, believed to be the forewoman, lives in Copperas Cove and works in a military payroll office at Fort Hood. Another woman works in the Limestone County victim's assistance office. The fifth juror is a homemaker from Hewitt.

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