12 Branch Davidians indicted in Feb. 28 shootout

The Dallas Morning News/August 7, 1993
By Lee Hancock

WACO - A federal grand jury returned a 10-count indictment Friday charging 12 Branch Davidians with murder, firearms violations and conspiracy to kill federal agents during a deadly Feb. 28 shoot-out.

The indictment expands charges already filed against 10 of the cultists and includes new charges against Ruth Riddle and Renos Avraam, two survivors of an April 19 fire that gutted the Davidians' heavily barricaded compound.

The 10 Davidians previously charged have denied wrongdoing. Ms.

Riddle, a Canadian citizen living in Waco, could not be reached for comment. Mr. Avraam, a Briton jailed as a material witness in the case, also could not be reached for comment.

The indictment came the same day that Waco police released new tape recordings of negotiations with the cult made during the first hours after the Feb. 28 gunbattle.

In the latest tape recording, a local sheriff's deputy can be heard pleading with cultist Wayne Martin not to fire on emergency helicopters evacuating Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents wounded in the firefight.

"We're worried that the National Guard will fly in here with choppers," Mr. Martin tells the deputy after hearing one plea to maintain a ceasefire. "We're gonna assume that any chopper that comes in is National Guard."

Four ATF agents died and 16 were wounded in the gunfight, which erupted after about 100 federal agents tried to serve arrest and search warrants on the Branch Davidian compound.

Cult leader David Koresh and his followers maintained that ATF agents fired the first shots and that the Davidians were only protecting their home. But journalists who witnessed the firefight have said the cultists ambushed the agents as they emerged from horse trailers used to transport them to the compound.

An ensuing 51-day standoff ended April 19 with a massive fire that gutted the compound and left Mr. Koresh and at least 85 followers dead. The fire erupted several hours after FBI agents began using tanks to inject tear gas into the compound to force the cult's surrender.

FBI officials said immediately after the fire that their agents saw cultists setting the fires, but cultists who survived the blaze have insisted that it was touched off when lanterns inside the compound were knocked over by FBI tanks.

The 12-page indictment returned Friday alleges that Mr. Koresh "gave instructions to spread flammable fuel within the Mount Carmel compound" after the teargassing began.

"It was part of the conspiracy that an unidentified co-conspirator would and did give instructions at about noon on April 19, 1993, to start the fires," the indictment alleges.

In addition to Ms. Riddle and Mr. Avraam, the new indictment charges a conspiracy to kill federal agents by cultists Brad Eugene Branch, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Paul Gordon Fatta, Livingstone Fagan, Norman Washington Allison, Graeme Leonard Craddock, Clive J. Doyle, Woodrow Kendrick, Jaime Castillo and Kathryn Schroeder.

Although it gives a more detailed outline of the government's case against the cultists, it provides little new information about the Feb. 28 firefight and ensuing standoff.

Several of the cultists were scheduled to stand trial later this month, but with the new indictment, the first trials connected with the Davidian standoff will be postponed.

The two hours of tapes released Friday by the Waco Police Department also provide some new details of the standoff's first hours.

The tapes, made after cultists called the department's tape-recorded 911 emergency phone line in the first minutes of the firefight, include nerve-wracking efforts by McLennan County Sheriff's Lt. Larry Lynch to coax cultists to allow ATF agents to evacuate their wounded.

As four wounded ATF agents try to reach an agent shot six times during the gunbattle, Mr. Martin suddenly tells Mr. Lynch that others inside the compound fear ATF is about to attack.

The sheriff's deputy gradually calms him down, only to be told by an ATF agent on another phone line that "All of our guys are in the open right now. If they open up, we're gonna lose 20 guys."

Lt. Lynch also repeatedly urges Mr. Martin to allow authorities to help any wounded cultists, only to be told: "Here's the message. We don't want any help from your country."

Mr. Martin later adds: "I can tell you now. They're not gonna leave this property. . . . Nobody wants to leave. . . . Each man's making his own decision. . . . Some of them are dying."

The Police Department began releasing the tapes in June after a congressional subcommittee aired heavily edited exerpts from the cult's first 911 conversations.

The Justice Department told members of the House Appropriations subcommittee in late June that a Dallas FBI agent had erred in releasing the edited tape to their congressional investigator. The release thwarted federal prosecutors' efforts to keep the 911 recordings secret until the cultists could be tried.

A committee member asked for an inquiry into the tape's release because the panel was told that the edited tape was an accurate recording of the first half-hour of negotiations with the cult.

The Justice Department's inquiry ended after investigators determined that the Dallas agent, Oliver "Buck" Revell, special agent in charge of the FBI's Dallas division, did not knowingly do anything wrong in releasing the tape, made by the FBI to train negotiators during the siege.

But on July 19, Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., asked Attorney General Janet Reno for a more thorough investigation.

"Who edited the version of the tape given to the House in the first place, and why, in that version, are conversations with David Koresh out of order," Mr. DeConcini, a Senate Judiciary Committee member, wrote in a letter to Ms. Reno. "Is there a reason why the FBI, for training purposes, would leave out the threatening statements made by the Branch Davidians on the actual tape?"

"The release of altered tapes that are evidence before a grand jury is an assault on the department's integrity," the letter stated. "It is essential that this matter be investigated thoroughly and that the individuals responsible receive the most severe penalties available under the law."

Agent Revell could not be reached for comment Friday, and Justice Department spokesman Carl Stern said he was not familiar with the senator's request.

The edited tape led some committee members to criticize communications planning by ATF because the recording made it appear the 911 center could not reach federal agents for almost an hour after beginning negotiations with cultists.

Tapes subsequently released by the Waco Police Department show that the 911 center was in contact with ATF raid commanders within 30 minutes after cultists called the emergency line.

The police tapes also indicate that ATF officials worked closely with the 911 center to negotiate a cease-fire and evacuation of wounded federal agents

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