Waco Jury Hears Audio Tapes

The Associated Press, July 11, 2000
By Sherri Chunn

WACO, Texas (AP) - For nearly an hour, a judge, jurors and attorneys listened to mostly unintelligible conversations involving federal agents and the Branch Davidians in the days before the compound burned to the ground.

Then, on the final day of the siege as tanks rumbled in the background, comes a male voice: "Let's keep that fire going."

That audio excerpt and others played in court, government attorneys say, help prove that suicidal Davidians - not federal agents - caused the three fires that consumed the compound near Waco on April 19, 1993. Some 80 sect members, including leader David Koresh, died from gunshots or fire that day.

Government attorneys hope testimony from arson investigators in the $675 million wrongful death trial will bolster their claim. Surviving Branch Davidians and family members who filed the suit contend the government used excessive force against the sect and contributed to the deadly blaze.

On the recordings played Monday, unidentified Davidians were heard asking "start the fire?" and "should we light the fire?"

Federal agents were heard warning sect members of an impending tear-gassing operation and urged them to surrender the morning of April 19. On the same excerpt, a male voice was heard asking, "Should we light the package?"

A day earlier, an unidentified male said, "you always wanted to be a charcoal briquette ... There's nothing like a good fire to bring us to the earth."

The recordings were made with tiny eavesdropping devices hidden among supplies that were sent to the compound by the government.

The 51-day standoff began Feb. 28, 1993, when agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms unsuccessfully tried to search the complex and arrest Koresh on illegal weapons charges. A gun fight ensued; four agents and six Davidians were killed.

The plaintiffs say tanks used in an FBI tear-gassing operation on the final day turned the compound into kindling by punching holes in the walls, allowing wind gusts to feed the flames. They argue the tanks could have knocked over lanterns used to illuminate the compound after the government cut off electricity.

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