Ex-Davidian Defends David Koresh

The Associated Press, June 27, 2000
By Matt Slagle

WACO, Texas (AP) - A former Branch Davidian whose pregnant daughter died in the fire that ended the sect's 51-day standoff with federal agents testified that leader David Koresh never labeled the agents enemies.

In a deposition read to jurors Tuesday, Oliver Gyarfas said his daughter, Aisha, who was 17 when she died, was one of several females living at the compound who was married to Koresh.

Gyarfas recalled Koresh's Bible studies, saying he taught that there would be an apocalyptic end of the world but never said tanks, gunfire or fire would play a role. He also said Koresh never taught that the FBI and other federal agents were "the Beast," or the enemy of the Davidians.

"He said the way to win a person over to God's side is to use the Bible and to never use force of any kind," Gyarfas testified for the wrongful death lawsuit against the government.

Koresh and about 80 of his followers died on April 19, 1993, when fire enveloped the wooden buildings of their compound outside Waco, hours after the government began a tear-gassing operation designed to end the standoff. Some died in the fire, others from gunshots.

The government maintains the Branch Davidians started the fire, but the plaintiffs say the government didn't do enough to fight the flames.

In another deposition shown to jurors late Monday, a witnesses testified that his company offered to lend the government a Soviet T-55 combat tank reconfigured as an armored firefighting vehicle for use at the compound.

Mira Slovak said he never heard back from the FBI.

During cross-examination Tuesday, Slovak acknowledged he had never seen the tanks used to fight real fires, only in demonstrations.

The plaintiffs are seeking $675 million in damages. They contend government agents fired indiscriminately during the raid; violated a plan approved by Attorney General Janet Reno when they had tanks punch holes in the building to spray in tear gas; contributed to or caused at least some of the three fires that engulfed the compound; and failed to have firefighting equipment at the scene.

Government attorneys have said firefighters were not allowed near the compound because they were in danger from potentially explosive munitions stored by the Davidians.

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