DALLAS (Reuters) - A Texas state commissioner Wednesday said evidence held by Texas Rangers calls into question U.S. government denials that its agents set off a fatal fire that ended the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco.
Dallas businessman James Francis Jr, chairman of the three-member Public Safety Commission that oversees the state police, said he wanted wider public access to the evidence collected by Texas Rangers investigating the cause of the blaze.
"Some of the evidence appears to be problematic and at least raise legitimate questions" about how the fire started, Francis told Reuters in an telephone interview, commenting on reports in Wednesday's Dallas Morning News.
Francis declined to say how the evidence might contradict the U.S. Justice Department's account that the fire was set by Branch Davidian members. The department has denied claims the flames were ignited by incendiary ammunition fired by federal agents.
The Justice Department dismissed Francis' allegations.
"It's nonsense. We know of no evidence to support an allegation that any incendiary device was fired into the compound on April 19 (1993)," department spokesman Myron Marlin told Reuters.
About 80 people inside the Branch Davidian compound died in the flames and the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) came under heavy criticism for how they handled the siege, which started with a shoot-out between ATF agents and Branch Davidians that killed four agents and six members of the sect.
Francis said there were three kinds of evidence among the more than 24,000 pounds of materials gathered by the Texas Rangers that raised questions in his mind.
"One is shells, shell casings, physical things. The second type of evidence is video and still photographs. The third type are interviews done there on the spot at the time," Francis said.
Francis said it was time for public access to the evidence, which he said has been shut off behind a confusion of federal and state jurisdictions.
Texas Rangers were deputized as U.S. marshals to investigate the cause of the siege.
As a result, all the evidence collected is held by the Department of Public Safety, the Texas state police agency that includes the Rangers, but belongs to the Department of Justice.
Francis said the DPS sends public requests for access to the evidence to the Department of Justice. But the Justice Department sends the requests back, arguing that the Texas agency has physical possession.
"Everybody is in a Catch-22, nobody has access to the evidence," he said. "There is some evidence there that needs to be seen."
The DPS has recently asked a federal judge in Waco to decide who should have custody of the mountains of material and who should be allowed to see it.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith has given the federal government until early August to file their arguments in the question and will therefore not rule until after that, Francis said.
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