WACO, Texas (AP) - A jury began deliberating Friday whether the government owes $675 million to surviving Branch Davidians and relatives of those who were killed in the cult's 1993 standoff with federal agents.
The six-member jury will advise U.S. District Judge Walter Smith on whether the government should shoulder any blame for the deaths of about 80 Davidians during the botched raid that started the 51-day standoff and the final day of the siege, when the cult's compound went up in flames.
The government contended that agents were ambushed by heavily armed Davidians in the raid and that suicidal members of the group set the fire themselves on the final day.
U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford, defending the government, said in closing arguments that the Davidians failed to prove their case.
``They set this place on fire. They're responsible for the deaths in there because they burned this place to the ground,'' Bradford said.
``This was one of the most terrible and horrible events in our history and they want to come into court and ask you to award them a judgment. That would be wrong. It would not be supported by anything that would be just and right.''
Plaintiffs' lawyers, including Ramsey Clark, who was attorney general during Lyndon Johnson's administration, urged the jury to punish the government. Clark said the deaths of the cult members ``didn't have to happen and called the siege ``the greatest domestic law enforcement tragedy in the history of the United States.''
``If the conduct of the ATF and the FBI was performed without excessive force and without negligence, then how in the world did it end up with such unmitigated, disastrous effects?'' Clark said.
The judge said he will announce the jury's recommendation and then take their findings under advisement and render a verdict later, possibly in August.
Before the trial, Smith ruled that the jury would not consider perhaps the most contentious issue - whether federal agents shot at the Davidians at the end of the siege. The judge said he will take up that issue before issuing his final verdict.
The siege began on Feb. 28, 1993, when Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents tried to search the complex and arrest David Koresh, the cult's leader, on illegal weapons charges. Six Davidians and four ATF agents were killed in the ensuing shootout.
The standoff ended April 19, 1993, with the deaths of some 80 men, women and children inside the compound from either gunshots or from the flames that quickly engulfed the building hours into a tear-gassing operation designed to end the siege.
Michael Caddell, an attorney for most of the plaintiffs, peppered his closing arguments with citations from government documents that he said proves agents deviated from their planned tear-gassing operation and took steps that put innocent people inside the compound, called Mount Carmel, in danger.
``This case is about the children at Mount Carmel, but it's too late to save those children,'' Caddell said. ``This case is also about those other children ... the children that will be there with the next David Koresh. What you do will help determine what happens to those children.''
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