Davidian survivor talks about escape from fiery Mount Carmel

Waco Tribune-Herald, June 28, 2000
By Tommy Witherspoon

As flames destroyed Mount Carmel, Branch Davidian Clive Doyle testified that he dove through a hole created by government tanks to escape the heat that seared his hands and said he wondered if anyone else made it out of the inferno alive.

Doyle, a plaintiff in the $675 million wrongful death lawsuit against the government, spent about five hours on the witness stand Wednesday describing life inside David Koresh's compound during the 51-day siege with the government and the chaotic, fiery end on April 19, 1993.

Doyle told the five-member advisory jury that "the skin was rolling off my hands" as he jumped from the building through a hole in the wall of the chapel.

"I looked back over my shoulder and saw a massive wall of flames and I thought I was the only one who got out," Doyle said, his voice cracking with emotion.

Eight others escaped the fire, but Doyle once again choked back tears as his attorney, former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, asked about his 18-year-old daughter, Shari, who did not.

Government attorney James Touhey, however, implied during cross-examination that Doyle cared more about himself and his small dog than he did about his daughter or anyone else in the structure. He also accused Doyle of helping start the fire by pouring flammable liquid on some stairs, charging that is why his hands were so badly burned and why there were traces of a fire accelerant on the sleeves of the blue nylon jacket he was wearing that day.

Doyle denied pouring the liquid or starting the fire in which Koresh and 75 followers died.

"Sir, isn't it a fact that you poured that liquid on the stairs?" Touhey said.

Doyle said no.

"Your hands. How did your hands get burned in the fire?" Touhey asked.

"Maybe you should try it sometime," Doyle said dryly.

Clark asked Doyle if he saw Misty Ferguson's hands during her trial testimony Tuesday. Ferguson, who also escaped the fire, lost fingers on both hands because of her burns.

Doyle told the jury that he spent most of the 51-day siege in the chapel area of the compound. His daughter and three others stayed there with him until Koresh gave an edict that the women and children were to remain in their rooms upstairs, Doyle said.

He said living conditions inside what Clark referred to as the "church center" became increasingly difficult as the standoff with government agents dragged on.

"It was pretty rough," he said. "We were not able to get to the toilet facilities, which were outside at the time. At one point, the electricity was cut off."

That caused much of the food supply in the freezers to ruin, Doyle said, adding that water supplies also got low, causing Davidians to ration water and resort to catching rainwater in pots to replenish the supply.

Doyle, who said he lost 30 pounds during the standoff and slept very little, testified that he dug a grave in an underground shelter in which they buried four of the five sect members who were killed on the morning of the Feb. 28, 1993, raid on Mount Carmel by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Four ATF agents were killed during the gun battle that ensued when agents attempted to arrest Koresh on weapons violations.

Davidians felt a sense of "elation" and thought "this was all going to be resolved peacefully" after FBI negotiators got an agreement from Koresh that he and his followers would surrender after Koresh finished writing his interpretations of the Seven Seals from the Book of Revelation, Doyle said.

That, by Doyle's estimation at the time of Koresh's pledge, would have taken another two weeks.

On the day before the raid, Doyle said he felt so bad that he slept on the bed in his room for the first time during the siege. About 4 a.m. on April 19th, Doyle said went to the chapel to read his Bible because he couldn't sleep. A couple of hours later, he said, he heard a loud speaker blaring that the siege was over and that the FBI would be pumping gas into the compound.

Doyle said he retrieved a gas mask that had been by his sleeping bag on the floor of the chapel and put it on. Each time a tank equipped with a boom crashed into the building and sprayed the misty tear gas that Doyle said had the consistency of talcum powder, the Davidians would rush into another area, he said.

He said he assumed that the women and children were upstairs. Most of them didn't have gas masks, Doyle said, adding that Jennifer Andrade rushed downstairs during the tear-gas assault and asked if more gas masks were available.

Doyle said men were crying because of the tear gas, which he said felt like "battery acid" on the skin.

Later in the morning, Doyle said he heard someone yell that the compound was on fire.

"I was looking out a hole in the chapel and smoke came down the south wall and got sucked into the hole and everything turned black," Doyle said. "Within a few seconds, I felt heat over the top of my head and it was very oppressive. There was no conscious thought to get down on the floor. The heat just pushed you down and I was on the floor rolling around and it felt like I was burning."

Doyle said he was holding a small dog that he cared for during the standoff and pitched it out through the hole and onto the ground. The dog found its way back inside and Doyle said he threw it out two more times before he jumped out himself.

"The dog was there with you," Touhey said on cross-examination. "You threw him out three times. You didn't go look for your daughter, though, did you?"

Doyle said no, explaining that he had been sick.

"But you were well enough to go get water for yourself and put on extra clothes," Touhey countered.

Doyle told Clark that the Davidians had no plan to commit suicide, saying that church doctrine made them "dead-set against" killing themselves.

"There was no plan to commit suicide," Doyle said. "We had an agreement to come out as soon as certain things took place. We had an agreement. We were hanging on that."

Touhey asked Doyle to explain how the flammable liquid got on the sleeves of his coat. Doyle said he didn't know, but theorized that he could have spilled lantern fluid when he was refilling lamps or said the dog might have tracked it back inside after walking through gasoline and diesel from gas tanks and barrels knocked over by the tanks.

Doyle, who was acquitted of all criminal charges after a 1994 trial in San Antonio, defended the sect's beliefs, including that God spoke through Koresh. He said that Koresh's sexual relationships with teen-age girls in the group were "spiritual relationships" that the girls entered into freely.

Touhey asked Doyle about reports that his daughter had become one of Koresh's "wives." Doyle said he never talked to her or Koresh about it.

After Touhey's rigorous cross-examination, lead plaintiffs attorney Mike Caddell asked Doyle if there ever is a day that goes by that he doesn't think about his daughter.

Doyle became emotional again, paused and said, "I live with this every day."

Before the lunch break Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. again became impatient with the pace of the trial, saying at one point, "You are taking way too much time, Mr. Clark."

As Clark asked Doyle about recent efforts to rebuild a chapel at Mount Carmel, Touhey objected. The judge asked Clark to explain the relevance of the question.

"It shows that faith goes on, your honor," Clark said.

"What's relevant about that?" the judge asked.

"It shows you can't crush religion," Clark said.

"That's not what this trial is about. Sustain the objection," Smith said.

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