Ex-prosecutor of Davidians defends 2 of them in land dispute

Waco Tribune-Herald/June 9, 2005
By Cindy V. Culp

Thursday, A man who helped prosecute the Branch Davidian criminal case switched roles Wednesday and defended two of the sect members in a dispute over the group's land.

Bill Johnston, who is now a defense attorney in Waco, said he got involved in the case because he wants the land – where David Koresh's compound was located – to "be a place of peace." He was initially reluctant, he said, but decided to offer his services for free after the two Davidians couldn't find anyone else to take the case pro bono.

"What they told me is there could be trouble if this thing wasn't resolved and because so much death and sadness happened there, I agreed to get involved to keep this thing judicial and civil," Johnston said. "... (Twelve years ago) I wish they had disputed the ATF or anyone else in court, not at the end of the gun."

Johnston was referring to the Feb. 28, 1993, raid on the Davidian compound by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Four agents and six Davidians died in the siege, which was followed by a 51-day standoff. It ended with a fire in which Koresh and 75 other Davidians died.

The next year, Johnston – who was the lead assistant U.S. attorney in Waco at the time – helped try 11 Davidians on murder charges. But he is most remembered for his own conviction related to the case.

The charge stemmed from Johnston's failure to turn over notes to investigators working for Special Counsel John Danforth's investigation of the tragedy. Those notes showed Johnston may have known for years that the FBI used tear-gas devices capable of starting fires on the final day of the standoff.

As a result, Johnston pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, which means knowing about a felony but failing to report it. He was sentenced to two years' probation in February 2001.

At the hearing Wednesday, Johnston's defended Clive Doyle and Charlie Pace in a civil lawsuit that centers on who should control the 77 acres of land the Davidians own 12 miles east of Waco. The site is now home to a church and several Davidians, including Doyle and Pace.

Management of the land has been in dispute for years. The latest round was in 2000 when a jury tried to decide who should be named trustee. It failed to name anyone, but it did deny the title to several parties, including a group of Koresh followers led by Doyle.

One of the other people who was denied the trustee title, Amo Roden, is the one currently suing Doyle and Pace. She lived on the land from 1993 to 2000, before leaving for four years to evangelize.

Roden returned to the area last fall, wanting to live on the land again. She did so from November until March, sleeping in her truck. But during that time she was fighting with Doyle and Pace, who do not consider Roden to be a true member of the Davidian church.

Many of the members feel the same way about George Roden, who Roden had a non-legal "contract marriage" with before he died in 1998. Roden was a Davidian leader before Koresh.

To get Roden to leave the property, Pace had her truck towed twice. She also claims they engaged in other acts of "harassment" to make her leave. She has since been living three miles away from the site, sleeping in her truck on land owned by friends, she said.

At Wednesday's hearing, Roden asked 74th State District Judge Alan Mayfield to issue a temporary injunction that would let her live at the site and set up a ministry there.

"I feel my history with the church and the fact that I am a well-known Branch Davidian entitles me to be on the church property," Roden, 62, said.

Johnston then said the suit should be thrown out because Roden had not met the criteria for an injunction.

Mayfield agreed and denied the injunction. Roden's claims that she is owed monetary damages by Doyle and Pace will be heard at a later hearing.

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