WACO, Texas - The forewoman of the jury that convicted Branch Davidians of criminal charges believes the federal government was mostly responsible for the deaths and injuries that occurred at Waco in 1993.
Sarah Bain, the juror, says that the Davidians who were convicted are paying for crimes with prison sentences. And she said the time has come for the government to pay for its actions, too, through the civil trial that resumes Wednesday in Waco.
"I'm waiting for the balance of responsibility to be weighed," said Bain, a retired teacher from San Antonio. She believes that individual defendants should have been included in the suit, including government officials who planned the initial raid on the Davidians' complex as well as the tear gas assault to evict them.
"I think they are the ones who used poor judgment," she said.
Davidian survivors and relatives of some of the 80 people who died have sued the government for hundreds of millions of dollars. They claim actions by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Federal Bureau of Investigation contributed to the deaths and injuries.
Bain agrees. She showed up in federal court last week as an observer. During a break in the testimony, she said she believed the federal government was 75 percent responsible for what happened, while the Davidians caused 25.
"That percentage should be finally judged so justice is established," Bain said. "It has always been in my mind they who did the provoking should have their day in court."
Government lawyers, who are defending against the Davidians' claims, have argued that the real culprit was David Koresh, the sect's leader. Davidians believed him to be God incarnate. He had so much control that several of the women in the sect believed it was a spiritual privilege to bear his children, as if brides of God.
In 1994 Bain was one of 16 jurors (12 jurors and four alternates) who heard seven weeks of evidence and testimony in the criminal trial of 11 Davidians in San Antonio. The sect members had been charged with murder or conspiracy to murder ATF agents who raided the sect's Mount Carmel complex Feb. 28.
The agents were serving warrants to arrest Koresh and search for illegal automatic weapons. Four agents and six Davidians were killed in the raid, which led to a 51-day standoff before the fiery end to the siege on April 19, 1993.
After the jury's four alternates were dismissed, Bain was voted the forewoman. After four days of deliberations, the jury reached a compromise verdict. It exonerated all 11 defendants of conspiracy and murder, but found seven of them guilty of manslaughter. It also found them guilty of carrying a firearm during the commission of a federal offense.
In an interview, Bain said it was never clearly established why the ATF needed 76 agents to raid the complex military style when it seemed that Koresh could have been arrested while he was out jogging. She said she suspected the agency needed favorable publicity at a time when its budget was in jeopardy.
"That was hinted at during the trial," she said. Another issue, she said, was the fact that the raid commanders went ahead with their plan even though they knew the element of surprise had been lost. A group of ATF agents later shared in a $15 million settlement from a Waco newspaper, television station and ambulance company. The agents had sued claiming that actions of the three indirectly contributed to the Davidians' learning that the raid was coming.
Bain had always been upset with the sentences that U.S. District Judge Walter Smith handed the defendants. Smith gave those found guilty of manslaughter the mandatory 10-year prison term. The use of a weapon in the commission of a federal crime brings a five-year sentence.
But Smith ordered additional 30-year sentences on the basis that they had access to automatic weapons, although no one had testified that they had used them. On June 5, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously decided to reduce the sentences of four Davidians to 15 years from 40 years and reduced the term of a fifth defendant to 15 years from 20 years.
The Supreme Court decision was a step toward balancing the scales of justice, Bain said.
When the government's siege at Waco began, Bain, now 53, was a high school Spanish teacher in New Braunfels, Texas, a town 23 miles northeast of San Antonio. At that time, she believed in her government.
"I would have never questioned anything until something like this came up," she said. At the same time, Bain was "a very big Second Amendment person." As a youngster, she went hunting with her father, and she still believes in gun rights.
Waco has made her more skeptical of government, and the events of Mount Carmel continue to haunt her. When the sentences were appealed, Bain attended the arguments. She has gone to memorial services for the Davidians at the site of the complex, 10 miles outside Waco.
During the 51-day siege, the FBI tried to pressure the Davidians out of their complex using loudspeakers blasting Tibetan chants, the slaughtering of rabbits and rock music. The group's electricity was cut off, effectively depriving them of water since an electric pump brought water from a well.
"Why put a paranoid group through sleep deprivation?" Bain said. "That doesn't seem like a way of making them do what the government wanted. That's more of a way of turning them against government."
Bain said she believes there were two kinds of people in the complex: Koresh and a few of his close lieutenants, and the rest of the people, who were "true believers."
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