Witness details Koresh's militancy

Sect leader ordered assembly of weapons, predicted gunfight, ex-Davidian testifies

The Dallas Morning News, July 6, 2000
By Lee Hancock

WACO – David Koresh grew "militant" just before his sect's bloody standoff with the government, ordering followers to make grenades, silencers and machine guns and predicting a shootout with authorities, a former Branch Davidian testified Wednesday.

In the months before the 1993 siege, Donald Bunds said in deposition testimony read to jurors, the self-proclaimed messiah also taught followers to expect a violent end and his death at the hands of outside enemies.

"He was almost constantly going through a scenario where the enemy or the cops or the ATF . . . were going to come down the driveway with rifles, and we were going to have to shoot back," Mr. Bunds said. "It was going to happen to him and his group, and they were going to join him in his battle."

Mr. Bunds – an engineer who by chance left the compound only minutes before a gunfight broke out there with Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents – also recalled bringing milling machinery and a lathe to the compound for Mr. Koresh in 1992. He said he used the equipment on Mr. Koresh's orders to make silencers and to machine parts to convert AR-15 assault rifles to automatic weapons.

But he also said he never saw any working machine guns assembled from the 100 parts he machined. He added that many of the other projects commissioned by Mr. Koresh in the days leading up to the standoff – including plans to rig model airplanes with anti-tank explosives, build anti-tank rockets and reinforce the sect's compound – never worked.

"Mostly everything he did failed," Mr. Bunds said.

The testimony was presented as government lawyers continued defending ATF and FBI actions in the 1993 standoff. Lawyers for the sect have charged in a $675 million wrongful-death suit that ATF agents used excessive force in a gunfight that began the siege and that FBI agents violated Washington-approved plans for trying to end the standoff.

Opening the trial's third week, government lawyers played a videotaped deposition in which a former Branch Davidian described loading magazines with bullets during the initial gunfight with ATF. Jacob Mabb, who was 9 at the time of the incident, said he went with his mother and three siblings to a room filled with guns and boxes of and ammunition and loaded magazines. He said the magazines then were taken away by armed sect members during the Feb. 28, 1993, gunbattle.

Like Mr. Bunds, Mr. Mabb testified that Mr. Koresh taught followers that he was Jesus Christ. Mr. Mabb said he left the compound after the gunfight only because he was given permission to leave by Mr. Koresh.

The government also called four more ATF agents Monday to describe the horrific gunfight that broke out as they tried to search the compound and arrest Mr. Koresh on weapons charges. Four ATF agents and six sect members died that day.

Like the three agents called last week, ATF witnesses called Monday offered gripping stories of crouching behind car bumpers, dirt piles and flimsy fences as a wall of bullets came at them through the compound's windows, walls and doors. Contradicting earlier testimony from some Branch Davidians, the agents said they saw gunfire flashing from almost every upstairs window – including a window where sect members claim one Branch Davidian woman was killed without provocation during the firefight.

"There was no way for us to simply get up and walk out without simply being slaughtered," said ATF Agent Gerald Petrilli, who sustained 47 shrapnel wounds. "We were stuck there. And not only were we stuck there, we knew that no one was going to go up that driveway to help us."

But like their colleagues who appeared last week, Mr. Petrilli and the other agents who testified Monday could not say who started the shooting. Most conceded that they initially thought the first pops of gunfire came from agents assigned to control the Branch Davidians' dogs.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Michael Caddell repeatedly accused Mr. Petrilli of altering his earlier accounts of the gunfight and what wounded him.

Different stories

In a March 1993 statement to the Texas Rangers and in testimony in a 1994 criminal trial, Mr. Petrilli said he believed he'd been hit by buckshot from a .12-gauge shotgun. Noting that the agent heard shotguns being fired only by ATF agents, Mr. Caddell suggested repeatedly that Mr. Petrilli could've been hit by shotgun blasts from agents watching compound dogs.

But the agent said he was certain he had been wounded by a hand grenade thrown from the compound, noting that the pieces of metal pulled from his arms were irregularly shaped shards, not uniformly rounded slugs.

The Houston lawyer also got Mr. Petrilli and another agent who helped lead the ATF "special response teams" that spearheaded the raid to acknowledge that ATF's final preparations for their Feb. 28 operation included battlefield medical training from U.S. Army Special Forces medics.

Medical training given

Mr. Petrilli and retired Houston Agent Ken Lattimer each testified that Army medics met their agents at Fort Hood on the eve of the raid and taught them how to treat gunshot wounds, including by "sucking chest wounds," and field administration of intravenous or IV fluids. They said their contingency planning also included calling in local ground ambulances and two Careflight helicopters from Fort Worth to be on standby during the raid.

Under government questioning, Mr. Lattimer and Mr. Petrilli each said they expected no resistance worse than fist fights, and Mr. Lattimer said he believed the medical classes were "for practice." But Mr. Petrilli said under cross-examination that ATF originally asked for the U.S. Army to send Bradley Fighting Vehicles to use in the raid.

Defense Department records indicate that the request for eight Bradleys was quickly denied because of federal limitations on military involvement in domestic police actions. The records indicate that Defense Department officials also rejected a simultaneous ATF request to send specialized military medical teams to the Waco raid for "on-site trauma medical support."

The records state that two Special Forces medics who gave ATF agents pre-raid medical classes were asked by agents to join the raid but that they declined because of federal restrictions on the military.

Mr. Lattimer also conceded on cross-examination that he had never trained with special forces personnel for any other ATF operation and had never before seen agents preparing for a raid instructed on giving IVs.

More from agents

Government lawyers said after Wednesday's proceedings that they will offer more testimony from ATF agents on Thursday. But they expect to turn by week's end to the FBI's final tear-gas assault on the compound April 19, 1993. More than 80 Branch Davidians died when the compound burned about six hours into the gas assault.

Lawyers for the sect and relatives of those who died have alleged that the FBI's two commanders in Waco violated orders when they decided against fighting a fire if one broke out during the tear-gas assault. Their lawsuit also alleges that the two commanders, former FBI Agents Jeffrey Jamar and Richard Rogers, also violated a Washington-approved plan and possibly touched off the fire when they sent tanks deep into the building.

Government lawyers say that all federal actions were proper and that sect members alone caused the fires and massive loss of life.

U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford of Beaumont, one of the government's lead lawyers, had promised jurors in his opening statement that Mr. Jamar and Mr. Rogers would testify.

But he told reporters Wednesday that the two men probably will not be called to the trial. None of the ATF's raid commanders have been called as witnesses, just as neither they nor the FBI's leadership was called by the government to testify in the 1994 Branch Davidian criminal trial.

"We don't think it's necessary," Mr. Bradford said.

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