Government agents say they were surprised by Davidian firepower

Waco Tribune-Herald, June 30, 2000
By Tommy Witherspoon

Two government agents who were wounded while trying to arrest David Koresh on Feb. 28, 1993, testified Friday that Branch Davidians inside Mount Carmel ambushed them with firepower that was beyond their "wildest dreams."

The testimonies of retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents Robert White and Kenneth King on behalf of the government closed out the second week of trial in the $675 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by Branch Davidian survivors.

King, who now lives in Knoxville, Tenn., said he was shot six times and lost three of his ATF team members from New Orleans during the fierce gun battle with Koresh and his followers.

"Not in our wildest dreams did we expect to meet the resistance we got that day," King told the five-member advisory jury in Waco's federal court.

White, who was riding with about 30 other agents in the first of two cattle trailers used to haul the 76 agents to Mount Carmel, said he heard 200 to 300 shots fired from the compound before he ever made it out of the trailer. King said he had taken about two or three steps out of his trailer when he heard the first shots.

However, under cross-examination from lead plaintiffs' attorney Mike Caddell, both agents said that the first shots they heard were not from automatic weapons and both assumed that those shots were from fellow ATF agents shooting dogs in front of the compound. Neither said he knew who shot first — the Branch Davidians or the ATF.

Both men said the agents had planned for the worst and hoped for the best. But White said they never expected much more than "fisticuff type of resistance," despite the fact that some agents had asked to carry AR-15 rifles and been turned down by their superiors.

Caddell asked if it weren't true that some of the agents had stenciled their blood types on their necks before the raid. White said they had.

"That would have been a hell of a fist-fight, wouldn't it?" Caddell asked.

The plaintiffs have alleged that ATF agents fired without provocation and shot indiscriminately during the Sunday morning raid.

However, White, who fired 40 to 50 shots during the battle, said he returned fire to windows in the compound where he could see muzzle blasts or a gun barrel sticking out. He said he never saw anyone with a gun inside the compound.

"Did you ever see any of these people firing a gun that morning?" Caddell asked, holding up a display bearing photos of children who died in the April 19, 1993, fire at Mount Carmel. White said no.

"You knew there were a number of women and children in there that day, didn't you?" Caddell asked, charging that agents fired through walls.

"Yes," White said.

"And you knew the building was of shoddy construction?"

"Yes," White said.

White, who was shot in the shoulder and neck, testified that a bullet also lodged in his helmet. Under questioning from Caddell, he said an investigation showed that agents fired 1,587 rounds during the raid.

King said his team was responsible for trying to enter Koresh's second-floor living quarters and sealing off a room nearby that ATF officials referred to as the "arms room." He said he had heard quite a bit of gunfire from other parts of the compound before his team got on the roof. He testified that he was shot four times in the arm, chest and stomach within seconds of his arrival on the roof.

He said he tried to get out of the line of fire and heard a noise that he thought was rain dripping off the roof from the early-morning drizzle. However, when he turned his head, he realized that the sound was blood pouring from a head wound suffered by his friend, ATF agent Todd McKeehan, 28, of New Orleans.

As he turned to see McKeehan's body, King said he was struck in the leg and buttocks by two shots fired through the roof. He then rolled off the roof and into an interior courtyard area, where he stayed about 21/2 hours until a cease-fire was negotiated and agents took him for medical treatment.

King said he never took his pistol from its holster.

During King's testimony, government attorney Marie Hagen displayed photographs to the jury of McKeehan, Robert Williams, 26, and Conway LeBleu, 30, all members of King's team from New Orleans who were killed that day. ATF agent Steve Willis, 32, of Houston, also died from gunshot wounds. Six Branch Davidians also died Feb. 28, 1993.

"I think the testimony continues to clearly establish that the ATF was not the aggressors in this situation," said U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford, Hagen's co-counsel. "They were caught in a gunfire in which they were basically fighting for their lives, defending themselves and that the shots being fired into the compound were in response to being fired upon. They were firing into directions in which they are taking gunfire and I think that point has been very well established and there really has been very little shown in contradiction to that."

In earlier government testimony Friday morning, former television reporter John McLemore, who witnessed the shootout, testified that three Texas National Guard helicopters made three passes about 200 yards away from Mount Carmel before the raid on Feb. 28, 1993. That contradicted testimony Thursday from three Texas National Guardsmen, who said the helicopters made just one approach to Mount Carmel that morning and never got closer than a quarter-mile from the building before the helicopters were hit by gunfire and forced to land.

Government testimony will resume Wednesday after an extended holiday break. Caddell said he thinks the trial could be concluded by the end of next week or early the week after.

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