Misty Ferguson raised her right hand Tuesday to take an oath to tell the truth and the sleeve on her dress fell to reveal more about the injuries she suffered on April 19, 1993 than words ever could.
She lost the fingers on both hands in the fire that destroyed Mount Carmel. The inferno led to the deaths of David Koresh and 75 followers — and a $675 million wrongful-death lawsuit against the government that's in its second week.
Ferguson, girlish bangs hanging to her glasses, talked in a soft Southern accent about the fire. She was 17 years old and hiding in a back bedroom on the second floor of Mount Carmel when it started.
"I had come out into the hallway, and I felt heat underneath my feet," Ferguson, 24, testified.
She tried going down the hallway, but the stairs had been buckled by FBI tanks ripping into Mount Carmel to disperse tear gas, Ferguson told Houston attorney Mike Caddell, lead attorney for the plaintiffs.
"The floor was caved in," Ferguson said. "Before I knew it, I was engulfed in smoke."
Ferguson was the last witness called by Caddell and wife Cynthia Chapman, as they rested their case.
Former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, representing longtime Davidians such as Clive Doyle and Sheila Martin, had just started presenting his case to U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. and an advisory jury when court recessed. Houston attorney James Brannon, representing the estate of Koresh's legal children, will follow Clark.
After being enveloped in smoke at Mount Carmel, Ferguson dropped to the ground, she testified Tuesday.
"I seen a little bit of light down toward the other way," Ferguson said. "...At that point, there was a lot of crackling noise."
Ferguson said she crawled toward the light and found a gap in an outside wall.
"There was a hole toward the front side of the building where a tank had come in," Ferguson said. "I jumped from the building there."
Caddell asked Ferguson if she knew the extent of her injuries. Her 6-month-old son, Dylan, could be heard crying outside the courtroom.
"At that point, the only thing I knew that was burned was my hands," Ferguson testified. "They were already burnt.’
Ferguson was one of three Davidians taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital's burn unit in Dallas. The other two, Marjorie Thomas and Clive Doyle, were also in court Tuesday. Ferguson was also burned on her face and body, requiring a long hospitalization and rehabilitation.
Caddell submitted a written deposition from Frederick Lanceley, an FBI negotiator at Mount Carmel, critical of the FBI's decision to aggressively insert tear gas into the building. Lanceley said he agreed with the assessment of Gary Noesner, who coordinated the negotiation team at Mount Carmel.
A 1993 government report of an interview with Noesner after the fire was then read.
"Noesner ... determined that no one asked the negotiators and behavioral scientists what the response would be if the tanks punched holes in the building," the report said. "Noesner sees this as a fundamental flaw in the implementation of the operation. Any negotiator would have told them that dismantling the building would provoke a violent response. ... He believes that is what triggered the starting of the fires and the shooting of the children."
Government co-counsel Michael Bradford then read an excerpt from Lanceley's deposition in which the former negotiator stated that he wasn't critical of the FBI agents on the Hostage Rescue Team.
"I was drinking coffee and eating donuts and they were out there lying in the grass, and I understood some of them even entered the burning building to pull some of those folks out," Lanceley said. "They risked their own lives to save lives and that's more than I did."
Ferguson began her testimony Tuesday with a description of Feb. 28, 1993, the day of the raid on Mount Carmel by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
"Some of the women, I can't remember who they were, said, 'They're coming. They're here,'" Ferguson testified. "Shortly after I heard the words, 'They're coming,' there was shooting."
Government co-counsel Marie Hagen had Ferguson recount her testimony since other Davidian women have testified they didn't know there was going to be a raid. Ferguson told Caddell that she didn't know either.
Caddell asked if Ferguson saw any Davidians carrying weapons.
"I was so close to the floor," Ferguson said. "I had my head buried. I didn't see anything."
Ferguson was accompanied to court by her mother, Rita Riddle, who testified last week. Riddle left Mount Carmel during the siege.
In other testimony, Caddell submitted a written deposition from Livingstone Fagan, serving a prison sentence on manslaughter and weapons charges. Fagan said the Davidians' boast after the ATF raid that they had weapons capable of blowing a tank into the air was an idle threat intended to keep the government from realizing "how vulnerable we were."
"We only stated that so they would think that," Fagan said. "As long as they thought that, we had a little grace."
Fagan also said he saw ATF agents on the roof of Mount Carmel during the raid and shot at them. One fell off the roof, but Fagan said he doesn't know if he shot him.
In a written statement submitted by Cynthia Chapman, ATF agent Jeffrey Pierce reported being in the back of Mount Carmel when he heard the first shots and "immediately assumed that some animals were being shot in the front of the compound."
Clive Doyle, Ramsey Clark's first witness, recalled running toward the front door of Mount Carmel upon hearing shots. He found Perry Jones wounded and on his hands and knees.
"Perry was screaming," Doyle testified. "He said that he had been shot while standing behind the front door. He said the bullets came through the door and hit him in the stomach."
Jones later died.
The trial resumes today with Doyle back on the witness stand.
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