Jailed Branch Davidians wait, hope as Waco probe reopened

CNN News, September 17, 1999
By Tony Clark

BEAUMONT, Texas (CNN) -- At the U.S. Penitentiary outside Beaumont, Texas, Jaime Castillo waits and hopes that the renewed investigation into the Waco tragedy will bring what he terms "justice."

Castillo, 31, is one of seven Branch Davidians still serving time for their involvement in the 1993 shoot-out with agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which precipitated a 51-day siege.

Castillo and fellow inmate Brad Branch -- both convicted on weapons charges and voluntary manslaughter -- were at the front door of the compound that the Davidians called Mt. Carmel with their leader, David Koresh, when the ATF raided the complex on February 28, 1993. They dispute the ATF's assertion that the Davidians fired first. 'David opened the door ...' "They fired first," says Branch. "David opened the door, and, to me, it was courageous. He opened the door, and he put his hand out."

"I heard him say, 'Wait a minute, there are women and children here. Let's talk,'" says Castillo. "And then I heard a gunshot from the outside. He backed off, slammed the door and by then, there was sporadic gunfire everywhere."

Throughout the ensuing standoff, the Davidians' distrust of the FBI increased as armored vehicles circled the building and electricity was cut off.

"What I remember of those days is listening to radio news reports constantly and wondering when the American people were going to stand up," says Kevin Whitecliff, another Davidian who was convicted of weapons charges and voluntary manslaughter.

"I mean, I thought ... this has never happened in this country. I'm sure these people are going to come ... down and they're going to ask questions. Why? Why did this take place? Why are there tanks on this property?" he says.

Whitecliff and Branch left Mt. Carmel 20 days into the standoff. Castillo was there until the end.

"A lot of individuals such as myself didn't want to leave because we were directly being challenged, not so much on the circumstances that happened but with respect to our faiths, our beliefs," Castillo said. The Davidians, Castillo says, thought the FBI and ATF weren't just after their guns but attacking their faith -- and that just stiffened resistance inside the compound.

While Congress and a special investigator prepare to take another look at what happened at Waco, there is little talk about the Davidians who remain behind bars.

"I want to know what they're going to do about innocent people who are convicted and are spending 40 years in federal prison," says Rocket Rosen, an attorney for the Davidians. "I never hear that talked about."

Rosen defended two Branch Davidians during their 1994 criminal trial.

"We're finding out what the government had and didn't turn over," Rosen says. "What else did they have? What else haven't they turned over?"

Branch and other Davidians believe there has been a widespread cover-up, and the prospect of another congressional probe doesn't give him much hope.

"We don't need another dog-and-pony show like the 1995 (congressional) hearings," he says. 'Just another cover-up' There is even concern that the scope of former Sen. John Danforth's investigation won't go far enough.

"He says he's only going to investigate the day of April 19, and he wants to show, or he wants to ... investigate if there were lies and cover-up," Branch says. "To me, to only do April 19 is just another cover-up."

April 19, 1995, was the day that the 51-day siege ended when a massive fire destroyed the Branch Davidian compound. The bodies of Koresh and some 80 of his followers were found inside. Most died from the fire; a few died from gunshot wounds.

Until now, Castillo says everyone has taken the government's version of events as gospel.

"I think if people really look into the case and analyze it objectively, they'll say, 'Yeah, we've been done wrong,'" he says.

Seven Branch Davidians remain in federal prison in connection with the shoot-out. One is expected to be released in 2006 and another in 2010. The other five, including Branch, Castillo and Whitecliff, aren't expected to be released until 2028.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.