U.S. lawyers detail sect's Waco arsenal

Koresh's control described

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

WACO – Government lawyers Thursday began wrapping up their defense of federal actions in the gunfight that sparked the Branch Davidian siege, meticulously detailing the sect's firepower and its absolute devotion to self-proclaimed messiah David Koresh.

A succession of Texas Rangers were called to testify Thursday about their role in recovering more than 300 guns and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition from the charred wreckage of the Davidian compound.

The Texas lawmen detailed how 60 M-16 machine guns, 60 AK-47 assault rifles, about 30 AR-15 assault rifles, several .50-caliber sniper rifles and dozens of pistols were discovered after the compound burned April 19, 1993. They told jurors in the Davidian wrongful-death suit how some weapons were arrayed in what appeared to be firing positions, and 133 were recovered from the concrete room where bodies of most of the sect's women and all of its children were discovered.

Examples of the arsenal were shown to jurors.

One Ranger, Lt. Ray Coffman, testified that 21 weapons were found among the human remains in the bunker, including one live grenade discovered under the body of a woman. He said another woman found there was wearing a pistol holster.

Lt. Coffman also recounted how an elderly Davidian woman interviewed during the raid described seeing two other women inside the sect's compound carrying guns just before agents arrived there Feb. 28, 1993.

The arrival of federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents to search the compound for illegal weapons and arrest Mr. Koresh touched off a gunbattle. Four ATF agents and six sect members died that day. The sect's lawsuit alleges ATF agents fired indiscriminately and used excessive force.

Davidian witnesses called to testify in the case have denied seeing women carrying guns or shooting in the gunfight.

Lt. Coffman said the Davidian, Ofelia Santoyo, also told him just after coming out of the compound in March 1993 that the sect had been tipped off before the ATF raid. He added that Ms. Santoyo described hearing one Davidian man yelling, "The Assyrians are coming!" – a reference to Old Testament "enemies" of God's chosen.

"She became afraid. . . .Through his teachings ... [Mr. Koresh] said this day would come and the police would come to attack the compound," Lt. Coffman recalled. "She said the Davidians were well-armed and justified in being well-armed because the Bible told them to do that."

Lt. Coffman said Ms. Santoyo told him that another Branch Davidian woman who surrendered during the siege, Ruth Riddle, was one of Mr. Koresh's 15 sexual partners. Ms. Riddle testified earlier that she considered herself only a spiritual wife of the Davidian leader and never had a physical relationship with him.

Ms. Santoyo acknowledged that her daughter was also a Koresh "wife," but she refused to say whether her 13-year-old granddaughter was among his sexual partners, the Ranger recalled. "But she would say that any woman in the compound age 12 or older was old enough to have sex with Koresh."

Koresh's influence

Government lawyers followed the Rangers' testimony by reading deposition testimony in which a former Davidian told of Mr. Koresh's domination of his followers.

That former Davidian, Dana Okimoto, recalled being sent to California to hide after she became pregnant with the first of her two children by Mr. Koresh. She said in her deposition that she was berated for taking one of them to the hospital after he broke his arm.

"He was very upset that I took him ... because now his name was in the system," Ms. Okimoto testified.

She said that argument so shook her faith in Mr. Koresh that she and her children, Sky and Scooter, eventually left the group. She is now a psychiatric nurse and lives with the boys, 11 and 9, in Hawaii.

Before she left, she said, Mr. Koresh had begun showing her guns, once ordering the younger women to practice firing shotguns. She said he also taught that his wives should kill themselves if they believed they were about to be taken by enemies and raped.

She said Mr. Koresh also controlled the group's diet, first imposing kosher dietary laws from the Old Testament but later adding his own "weird food-combining theories."

"It constantly changed," she said. "He wanted absolute control."

Plaintiffs' lawyer Michael Caddell dismissed the government's presentation as part of a continuing effort to prejudice jurors with tales of Mr. Koresh's obsession with guns and his strange religious and sexual practices.

Weapons acknowledged

In questioning the government's witnesses, Mr. Caddell repeatedly pointed out that he and his clients had previously acknowledged the exact number of weapons found in the compound.

After another Ranger testified that a pistol, loaded magazines, military vests and belts and even a live grenade were dropped by some of the Davidians who fled the fire, Mr. Caddell said a number of the fire survivors were convicted in a 1994 criminal trial.

"No kiddos came out . . . did they?" Mr. Caddell said. "The [ammunition] vest, the web belt, none of those were child-sized, were they?"

Pointing out how weapons displayed for jurors were charred and melted in the compound fire, Mr. Caddell told one Ranger, "You can imagine what that did to flesh, couldn't you?"

The sect's wrongful-death lawsuit alleges that FBI commanders in Waco were negligent in failing to have firefighting equipment on hand before trying to force the sect out with tear gas. More than 80 Davidians died in the blaze, which government lawyers maintain was caused solely by the sect.

Questioned about search

Mr. Caddell closely questioned Ranger Lt. James L. Miller about the FBI's involvement in the post-siege search of the compound. He noted that key evidence – including one of the compound's front doors – was never found.

Some Davidians have alleged that government agents fired indiscriminately through that door, while ATF agents have countered that many of the first gunshots in their battle with the sect came through the same door. Mr. Caddell noted that some FBI explosives experts were allowed to search the smoldering wreckage of the compound before the Rangers came to the scene April 19.

Another plaintiffs' lawyer, James Brannon, pointedly suggested that and other evidence could have been removed by FBI agents who loaded objects into a U-Haul truck at the compound April 19.

At the end of the exchange, one juror asked the judge to query Lt. Miller about the missing door, but U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford later told reporters that he considered the issue insignificant. "We've said it's missing," he said. "If you've got one door full of bullet holes and another door full of bullet holes, what's the big deal?"

But notably absent from the list of witnesses called Thursday were any of the FBI agents who helped to search the compound. Mr. Bradford also confirmed Thursday that the government will not call FBI agent James Cadigan, the FBI's chief laboratory official assigned to lead the evidence-gathering effort in the Waco case.

Items misidentified

In his questioning of the Rangers, Mr. Caddell noted that one of their colleagues who recently inventoried evidence found some items had been misidentified.

Lt. Miller acknowledged that one key item – a spent pyrotechnic tear gas grenade photographed by a Texas Department of Public Safety employee after the fire – was never turned over to the Rangers and remains missing. Under cross-examination, Lt. Miller also acknowledged that FBI agents were assigned to each of the teams assigned to collect evidence from the compound after the fire.

One internal FBI document previously entered into evidence by the plaintiffs states that half of the 100 law enforcement officials assigned to the search were FBI personnel.

That bureau document also indicates that Mr. Cadigan received a top bureau award for running the Waco crime scene search.

The award noted Mr. Cadigan "did in fact guide the overall course of the operation without appearing to." The document, stamped "confidential" by government lawyers, stated that was done so that the Texas Rangers could be publicly and "nominally" identified as lead investigators in the Davidian case while the FBI laboratory served as "de facto leader in the eventual gathering of physical evidence."

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