Judge rules that lawsuit against state can continue

July 3, 1999

WACO, Texas (AP) -- A federal judge has cleared the way for a lawsuit that blames the government for the fiery end of the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff.

U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. pared the number of defendants and plaintiffs, but ruled Thursday that the case can reach trial, said Mike Caddell, lead attorney for the Davidians.

"I think what the judge did is a great victory for the Davidians and for then country," Caddell said. "Our folks can't be happier and look forward to having their day in court."

The lawsuit -- filed by surviving Davidians and the relatives of the dead -- challenges the government's conclusion that the Davidians started the fire and that they also shot first during the federal raid on their compound.

The defendants include Attorney General Janet Reno and top officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI, including then-Director William Sessions.

"We're still reviewing the decision at this point," said Myron Marlin, a Department of Justice spokesman.

The multimillion-dollar lawsuit has been on hold since early May while an appeals court considered whether Smith should be removed from the case. The plaintiffs wanted another judge because Smith has ruled in criminal cases involving Branch Davidians.

The Davidians contend that when federal agents punched through the walls and fired tear gas into the cult compound on April 19, 1993, the canisters ignited, burning the building and the people inside.

Congressional hearings have pointed to mistakes by the law enforcement officers, but none has been charged with a crime.

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