Davidian Prosecutor Gets Probation

Associated Press/June 7, 2001
By Joe Stange

St. Louis -- A former federal prosecutor was sentenced to two years' probation Thursday for withholding information that the government used explosive tear gas canisters during the deadly siege at Waco.

Bill Johnston was also ordered to perform 200 hours of community service. "Maybe you need to talk to some high school students," U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw said. "Maybe you can help somebody not to make a similar mistake."

Johnston admitted withholding one page of pretrial notes about the government's use of pyrotechnic tear gas on April 19, 1993, the day the Branch Davidian compound burned down. Cult leader David Koresh and some 80 followers died.

Justice Department (news - web sites) and FBI (news - web sites) officials had denied for years that the government had used anything capable of sparking fires when they employed tanks and tear gas to try to end the standoff. Ultimately, investigators concluded that the canisters did not cause the fire, and a report by former Sen. John Danforth, assigned by President Clinton (news - web sites) to look into the siege, absolved the government of wrongdoing.

The government has maintained that the cultists set fire to the compound. Johnston said in November that he withheld the notes out of fear that hostile colleagues might try to use what he had written to discredit him.

On Thursday, he told the judge: "Whatever my reason, it was wrong. It will never be right to withhold something in fear or panic or whatever reason."

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