ST. LOUIS (AP) - After a 10-month independent investigation, a former senator has concluded that the blame for the catastrophe at Waco that killed 80 people rests solely with Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh.
"There are no doubts in my mind," Special Counsel John Danforth said Friday. "This is not a close call."
Danforth concluded with "100 percent certainty" that federal agents did not start the fire or shoot at cult members during the 1993 inferno. The government also did not improperly use the military and did not engage in a major cover-up, Danforth said.
While the 152-page preliminary report marked the second time in a week that federal agents were exonerated, Danforth said he was still investigating the decision of an unnamed FBI agent and lawyers to deny for six years that three pyrotechnic tear gas canisters were used on the final day of the 51-day standoff.
The longtime Republican senator from Missouri was appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno last September to investigate the siege after the government acknowledged, following years of denials, that it used pyrotechnic tear gas canisters during the final assault.
"Although the government did nothing evil on April 19, 1993, its failure to fully and openly disclose to the American public all that it did has fueled speculation that it actually committed bad acts on that day," Danforth said in his report.
He concluded that the pyrotechnic devices were fired four hours before the fire and had nothing to do with the destruction of the Branch Davidian complex in Texas.
"The blame rests squarely on the shoulders of David Koresh," Danforth said.
Also unresolved is what happened to the shells and pyrotechnic projectiles that are missing from evidence. Danforth said he would continue to investigate those questions and did not rule out the possibility of criminal charges after his final report is issued, in about 31/2 months.
Danforth cleared Reno and other top government officials of any responsibility for the tragedy.
In Washington, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder said: "Today's independent review sheds further light on the truth and discredits many of the unsubstantiated allegations that have skewed the public's perception of the events of April 19, 1993."
Similarly, FBI Director Louis Freeh was heartened by the findings.
"The simple truth, as the FBI has maintained since April 19, 1993, has been unmistakingly confirmed again today - the FBI fired no shots on that day and the Davidians started the fire that ultimately engulfed the compound," he said.
Most of the Danforth investigation was done by 17 private lawyers and 38 postal investigators to make sure it was independent of the Justice Department.
Danforth said he expects to spend $11 million to $12 million. About 900 witnesses were interviewed, and 2.3 million pages of documents were examined.
On July 14, a five-member jury in a civil trial in Waco decided that the government was not responsible. The ruling came in a $675 million wrongful-death suit brought by surviving cult members and the victims' families.
Ramsey Clark, who represented several survivors and relatives at the trial, said the Danforth report "failed to address the obvious."
"If their conduct was so right," Clark asked, "how did it end so very wrong, with so many deaths?"
Clark added that Danforth's report, along with the jury verdict, only reinforces dangerous law enforcement practices.
Danforth did not address whether government agents used poor judgment. "This was an investigation into bad acts, not bad judgment," he said.
The siege began Feb. 28, 1993, when Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents tried to arrest Koresh. A gunfight broke out, leaving four ATF agents and six Davidians dead, and the standoff began.
It ended April 19, 1993, when tanks driven by FBI agents pumped tear gas into the compound. A fire broke out and nearly all of the Davidians, including Koresh, died, some from the fire, some from gunshots.
The government has long contended the Davidians set the fire and caused their own deaths.
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