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Context of 'February 10, 2002: Driver’s License Examiner Dies in Suspicious Circumstances'

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Judge Walter Smith convenes a sentencing hearing for the Branch Davidians convicted of crimes in regards to the Waco siege that resulted in the death of scores of their companions (see January-February 1994). Defendant Ruth Riddle, facing deportation to Canada for overstaying her visa, is brought back to Texas for sentencing on her immigration violation; Riddle and six other defendants face sentencing for similar charges. In all, nine defendants receive jail sentences. During “allocution,” some argue that the court has no jurisdiction, and that Attorney General Janet Reno and President Clinton should have been witnesses. Others deny any guilt. One defendant, Livingston Fagan (see March 23-24, 1993), tells the court that he and his fellow defendants are all innocent. Fagan, “probably the only Branch Davidian with any formal theological training,” says he still considers himself a devotee of Davidian leader David Koresh, and says everything the Davidians did during the siege was justified by the harsh and aggressive actions taken by federal agents. “Right from the beginning, the spiritual aspect of this was totally and absolutely rejected,” he says. “But it was the very core of why we were at Mt. Carmel, and essentially, why we acted the way that we acted.” Defense lawyers argue that their clients are being forced to answer for crimes committed by Koresh and other Davidian leaders who are dead and cannot face justice themselves. Prosecutors argue that the theology as avowed by the Davidians shows a propensity towards violence, and ask the judge to give each defendant the maximum sentence. Smith, though the jury had not convicted the defendants of conspiracy to kill federal agents, holds the defendants responsible for the deaths of four agents nonetheless (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). He says the Davidians had assembled an “armory” of weapons “to rival that of a National Guard unit’s,” as well as a huge stockpile of ammunition and paramilitary gear, and that the Davidians had fortified the compound. He accuses Koresh of inciting his followers through his sermons and teachings to resist the authorities up to the point of death. Five Davidians, including Fagan, receive sentences of 40 years for carrying firearms while committing violent crimes. Another defendant, Paul Fatta, receives 15 years for firearms offenses. Defendant Graeme Craddock, who cooperated to an extent with authorities, receives 10 years for voluntary manslaughter and 10 years for carrying firearms during the commission of a violent crime. Riddle is given a five-year sentence; Katherine Schroeder, who testified for the prosecution, receives three years in jail. Later in the month, jury foreperson Sara Bain will say that Smith went much farther in his sentencing than the jury had intended. “They [the sentences] certainly didn’t reflect the jury’s intention at all,” she will say. “We had thought that the weapons charges would be a slap on the wrist.… I wish everyone had just been acquitted on all charges.… The federal government was absolutely out of control there. We spoke in the jury room about the fact that the wrong people were on trial, that it should have been the ones that planned the raid and orchestrated it and insisted on carrying out this plan who should have been on trial.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] In 2000, the Supreme Court will rule that many of the more lengthy sentences are improper (see June 5, 2000).

Entity Tags: Ruth Riddle, Graeme Leonard Craddock, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Janet Reno, Kathryn Schroeder, Walter Smith, Livingstone Fagan, Paul Gordon Fatta, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Sara Bain, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The federal government prepares to lease a building in Oklahoma City to house the ever-expanding evidence surrounding the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), known as the “OKbomb” investigation. Evidence from the bomb scene, including tons of debris from the devastated Murrah Federal Building, will be microscopically examined at forensic laboratories run by the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Over a thousand federal, state, and local law enforcement officials are involved in the case. [New York Times, 4/29/1995]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Murrah Federal Building

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Katherine Smith is killed one day before her scheduled appearance in court on charges that she helped five Islamic men get illegal drivers licenses. According to witnesses, she veered into a utility pole when a fire erupted in her car. She was burned beyond recognition. The FBI will later determine that gasoline was poured on her clothing before she died in the fire and find that arson was the cause of death. [Associated Press, 2/15/2002] A suicide note is found, but prosecutors will say they are looking for murder suspects. Smith was being investigated by the FBI; the five Islamic men she allegedly helped will later plead guilty to charges of fraud. One of these men, Sakhera Hammad, was found with a pass in his wallet giving access to the the basement of the World Trade Center, dated September 5, 2001. [Go Memphis, 2/12/2002; Associated Press, 2/13/2002; Reuters, 2/15/2002; Commercial Appeal (Memphis), 2/21/2002] Hammad claims he was a plumber and worked on the WTC’s sprinkler system on September 5. His father, Peter Hansen, provides a letter that he says he obtained from his son’s employer, Sergei Denko, president of Denko Mechanical. Denko says Hammad had been working for his company in the basement garage area of the North Tower of the WTC. [New York Times, 2/18/2002] Shown a photocopy of the pass that gave Hammad access to the lower basement of the North Tower, New York Port Authority officials will say it looks authentic, but they cannot be certain without seeing the original. Authorities said Hammad told them that he is plumber, and he and his cousin were in the tower to work on the sprinkler system. New York authorities have no record of a plumber’s license for either cousin. [St. Petersburg Times, 2/17/2002] One of the five Islamic men, Khaled Odtllah, drove from New York City to Memphis on September 11. Tennessee is one of only four US states that doesn’t require a Social Security card to get a driver’s license. A prosecutor accuses each of the five men of attempting to acquire a “completely false and untraceable identity.” [Associated Press, 2/12/2002; Associated Press, 2/15/2002] One month later, the coroner who examines Smith’s body will be targeted by a bomb, which is defused. Then in June the coroner will be attacked, bound with barbed wire, and left with a bomb tied to his body, but he survives. [Commercial Appeal (Memphis), 3/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Katherine Smith, Sakhera Hammad, Federal Bureau of Investigation, World Trade Center, Khaled Odtllah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

May 30, 2002: WTC Recovery Efforts End

Recovery efforts end at the World Trade Center site. [Associated Press, 5/31/2002]

Timeline Tags: Environmental Impact of 9/11

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