High court nixes appeals of six Branch Davidians convicted in '93 gunbattle

Houston Chronicle/April 21, 1997
By Jamie Karl

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday turned down the appeals of six Branch Davidians convicted in the 1993 shootout with federal agents at the cult's Mount Carmel compound near Waco.

With no comment, the high court rejected the appeals of four men convicted of voluntary manslaughter and of using a firearm in a violent crime, and two others convicted of weapons charges.

The charges resulted from the Feb. 28, 1993, raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in its attempt to arrest Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh. The ensuing gunbattle killed four ATF agents and three Davidians, and wounded 26.

A 51-day standoff ended April 19, 1993, when FBI agents ordered an armored, tear-gas assault. A fire engulfed the compound, killing about 80 Davidians.

Davidian members Renos Lenny Avraam, Brad Eugene Branch, Jaime Castillo and Kevin A. Whitecliff were given 10-year sentences for voluntary manslaughter of federal officers, and another 30 years for using a firearm in a violent crime.

Graeme Leonard Craddock was given 20 years for possessing a grenade and for using a firearm in a violent crime. Paul Gordon Fatta was given a 15-year sentence for possessing and conspiring to possess machine guns, though he was not present during the siege.

With the Supreme Court decision Monday, Craddock and Fatta have run out of appeals.

The six Branch Davidians were ordered to pay fines and $1.3 million in restitution to the slain agents' families and the government.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans affirmed the convictions last year, but ordered new sentencing for the four Davidians who had been given 30-year prison terms for possessing a weapon during a violent crime. It said those sentences can be reinstated only if a lower court finds the men did not merely possess guns but "actively employed" them. The 10-year sentences to those four defendants stand.

In their appeals, Avraam, Branch, Castillo, Craddock and Whitecliff said they should not be convicted of the firearm charges because they were acquitted of a related charge of conspiring to murder federal officers.

Fatta's appeal said the federal ban on possessing machine guns was unconstitutional.

Houston lawyer Steven Rosen, who represents Whitecliff, said he expects that the four Davidians who are to be resentenced will get the 30-year sentences again, and "then we'll appeal back to the federal courts ... the same arguments and same issues are going to come right back in another year."

A total of 12 sect members had been charged in the case. Four were acquitted on all charges in 1994, while two others did not appeal because of religious reasons.

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