FBI agent welcomes verdict on Waco siege; filmmaker disputes it

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 16 2000
By Terry Ganey

WACO, Texas - A Branch Davidian survivor broke down crying on the witness stand Wednesday when questioned about a fire that he managed to escape while his daughter died.

"I live with this everyday," said a tearful Clive Doyle after explaining how he and eight others escaped the flames that destroyed the sect's complex while his daughter, Shari Doyle, died.

Jim Touhey, a lawyer for the government, asked Doyle how he managed to get out, saving his dog in the process. Earlier, Doyle had testified that he threw his dog out of a hole in the wall of the burning building.

"Your daughter's there and you don't go to check on her?" Touhey asked.

"I didn't know where my daughter was," Doyle replied.

A devoted follower

An FBI agent who negotiated with the Branch Davidians during the 1993 standoff near Waco, Texas, said he hoped the jury verdict absolving the government of responsibility for their deaths would begin rebuilding public confidence in law enforcement.

"This case had done more damage than anyone can ever imagine," said Byron Sage, now retired from the FBI. "It's time to reverse that, based on the facts in this case and what the jury found."

Sage said he was not only pleased with the jury's decision Friday but glad that it had reached a verdict so quickly - in just 2 1/2 hours.

"That's a true testament as how clear the facts are," Sage said.

One reason some members of the public doubt the government's version of what happened at Waco is because of two documentary films by Mike McNulty, who has blamed the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for the Davidian deaths. Despite the verdict, McNulty said he stood by his findings.

"The jury shortchanged the Davidians," McNulty said. "There were too many live issues that had to be deliberated with care and detail. Obviously they didn't deliberate."

Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. refused to permit the jury to consider some of the Davidians' claims, citing a law that gives discretion to federal officials. For example, the FBI's decision to use converted tanks to pump tear gas into the sect's complex was not an issue for the jury to decide.

Near the end of the siege, as about 30 women and children huddled in a concrete room in the center of the complex, a tank pumped the gas into the structure in an attempt to force them out. Most of the women and children who died were found in the concrete structure. Some had died of bullet wounds but others died from asphyxiation and smoke inhalation from a fire that followed the gas attack.

Phil Arnold, a Houston-based theologian who wanted to talk the Davidians out of their complex during the standoff, said he believed the gas attack on the concrete structure was the strongest evidence of excessive federal force.

"Had they (the jurors) been able to consider that, then perhaps they would have concluded the deaths of those victims could be laid at the doorstep of the government authorities," Arnold said.

Dick Reavis, author of "The Ashes of Waco," covered the trial as a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. He said he believed it was hard for the jurors to understand the argument by the Davidians' lead lawyer Mike Caddell that while the Davidians bore some blame for what happened, it was time for the government to shoulder its share.

"That's the kind of reconciliation that might work with one's spouse," Reavis said. "Jurors are not going to understand that. If this guy (Caddell) thinks he's partly to blame, what's he doing in court? He defeated himself by trying to distance his clients from the rest of the Davidians."

The civil trial was the second time that issues surrounding the deadly raid and the subsequent siege have been before a jury. In 1994, a jury in San Antonio considered criminal charges against the Davidians. It reached a compromise verdict, exonerating 11 defendants of conspiracy and murder but finding five guilty of manslaughter and two of weapons charges.

Sarah Bain, who was the jury forewoman in that case, said she was disappointed with the civil jury's verdict.

"It's still my belief that the government did have a hand in all of those deaths," Bain said. "They knew the teachings of the Branch Davidians that they would have a conflict with the government. The government played right into that and did nothing to assuage the fears of the Branch Davidians."

Although the jury verdict is advisory and Smith has the power to ignore its findings, Bain said she didn't believe Smith would overrule the panel. Smith presided over the criminal trial as well as the civil case, although lawyers for the Branch Davidians tried to get him removed.

"I was hoping this was something that could put an end to the unrest that still exists across the nation," Bain said. "Even though I think it's basically over, it won't satisfy the minds of a lot of the American public."

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