Government begins presentation in Davidian wrongful death lawsuit

Government witnesses defend actions

Dallas Morning News, June 29, 2000
By Tommy Witherspoon

Jurors in the Branch Davidian wrongful death lawsuit shifted their focus Thursday from inside the sect's compound to the outside as the government began presenting its side of the case.

Helicopter crew members who escaped Davidian gunfire and a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent who was wounded during the Feb. 28, 1993, raid at Mount Carmel opened government testimony.

After plaintiffs' attorneys concluded their cases Thursday morning, U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. rejected a motion by government lawyers to dismiss the lawsuit by Branch Davidian survivors and family members.

In testimony Thursday afternoon, ATF agents Eric Evers and Kris Mayfield testified that they never expected to be met by such strong resistance as they arrived at David Koresh's compound to arrest the sect leader on weapons violations charges and search the building.

Evers, who was wounded, told jurors that he was riding in the cab of the first of two pickups that pulled cattle trailers filled with ATF agents up to the front door of the complex. Mayfield was riding in the back of the second trailer, he said.

Evers' assignment that morning was to run around to the side of the compound and handcuff anyone who was working near an underground pit area, he said. Mayfield was part of the dynamic entry team assigned to rush the front door and announce the agents' intentions.

Mayfield told jurors that he saw an unarmed Koresh for an instant standing in the doorway as he and other agents approached. He said he didn't hear Koresh say anything before the door closed and automatic gunfire shot through the closed door and front wall. Seconds before that, Mayfield said he had heard gunfire on the north side of the compound.

Mayfield, who said he didn't have his pistol drawn when he ran up to the front door, leaped behind a piece of equipment near the front door for cover and said he drew his weapon and returned fire through the front door and a nearby window.

Government attorney Marie Hagen asked why he didn't have his weapon drawn sooner.

"We didn't expect to have anybody ambush us or shoot at us," he said.

Government attorneys carried half of the mangled double front door over to within a few feet of the five-member jury to provide a closer view of the bullet holes. Mayfield said that the bullet holes in the door indicate bullets that traveled in both directions.

Government officials have said they misplaced the right side of the double front door, and Davidian defense attorneys during the criminal trial in San Antonio got a lot of mileage out of speculating why the other half of the door is missing.

Mayfield said the only time he fired was when he saw bullets being directed toward him or other agents. He said he could not see who was firing, but returned fire in the general direction from which the bullets came.

"We were taking a lot of machine-gun fire from the window just above where I was and I fired several rounds into that window so whoever was in there would back off and quit firing," Mayfield said. "It seemed that only caused the gunfire to intensify."

He said he attempted to throw a flash-bang device through the window, but it struck the wall and bounced off.

Hagen asked Mayfield who he saw after the ceasefire was declared and the ATF walked out.

"I saw Steve Willis, a friend of mine," Mayfield said. "I wasn't able to talk to him. He was dead."

Lead plaintiffs' attorney Mike Caddell asked Mayfield during cross-examination to walk over to the controversial front door.

"A little worse for wear," Caddell said. "It didn't look like that on Feb. 28, did it?"

"No, sir," Mayfield said.

Caddell asked Mayfield to count the number of incoming bullet holes in the left side of door. Mayfield counted four incoming bullet holes.

Flipping the door, Caddell asked Mayfield, "Do those look like tank treads to you? Something ran over it."

"Yes, sir," Mayfield said.

Caddell then asked if a Davidian might have fired through the door as a tank barrelled over it. Hagen, however, objected before Mayfield could answer. Smith agreed that the question called for speculation.

Hagen later had Mayfield count the number of outgoing bullet holes in the door. There were 10.

Caddell showed the court a photograph taken during the siege that showed the missing right side of the door. It was peppered with bullet holes. That's the side of the door that Koresh held open when he greeted the ATF.

Surviving Davidians claim it was proof that ATF agents were the aggressors on the day of the raid. Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, Koresh's attorney during the siege, testified earlier that all the bullet holes in the right side of the door were from incoming shots.

After court recessed, Caddell said the government's introduction of the door backfired.

"Bringing the left-half of the door into the courtroom was not a good move," Caddell said. "It's got tank treads on it. It's got bullet holes that its own witness admits are bigger than the Davidian bullet holes."

And, Caddell said, it raises questions as to what happened to the other side of the door.

"Clearly, I think the right-hand door was lost on purpose," Caddell said. "I don't think there's any other reasonable conclusion."

Evers said he was felled by a shotgun blast that struck him in the chest as he rounded the corner of the building and headed toward the pit. He said he took two rounds that struck his bullet-proof vest, one that struck his shoulder and one to the right wrist.

"I thought, You need to get up. You need to get up. These guys are shooting real bullets. This isn't a game. They are going to drop a bullet on my head," Evers said.

Four ATF agents were killed and more than 20 were wounded during the raid. Five Branch Davidians were killed that morning and another was killed in a separate incident later that afternoon. Others were wounded, including Koresh.

Evers said he climbed into a ditch and stayed there until the ceasefire about 21/2 hours later.

In other testimony, three members of the Texas National Guard testified that they were riding in three helicopters meant to serve as diversions during the raid. All said their aircrafts drew gunfire from the Davidians, forcing them to land nearby.

While ATF agents on board one of the helicopters carried pistols, no shots were fired from the helicopters, they said.

Government testimony will resume this morning.

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