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Profile: Paul Gordon Fatta
Paul Gordon Fatta was a participant or observer in the following events:
The flag of the Branch Davidians. [Source: Wikimedia]Vernon Wayne Howell, a Texas musician and a member of the Branch Davidian sect of Seventh-day Adventists, forcibly installs himself as the leader of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas. Howell is a self-described loner and dyslexic who dropped out of high school, but taught himself the Bible, memorizing most of it by age 12. He was expelled from the Church of Seventh-day Adventists in 1979 for being a bad influence on the church’s young people, and in 1981 joined the Waco group of Branch Davidians in its 77-acre compound, “Mount Carmel,” on the outskirts of the city. Howell had an affair with the leader of the group, self-described prophetess Lois Roden, some 30 years older than himself.
Power Struggle - After Roden died, Howell began a lengthy struggle for control of the group with Roden’s son George Roden. In late 1987, Roden digs up the body of a member, Anna Hughes, and issues a challenge to Howell: the one who could raise her from the dead is the one to lead the community. Instead, Howell asks the local authorities to charge Roden with abusing a corpse. On November 3, Howell returns to the Mt. Carmel compound with seven male followers, all dressed in camouflage and bearing assault rifles, hunting rifles, shotguns, and ammunition. The two groups engage in a gunfight; during the exchange, Roden is shot in the chest and hands. Howell and his followers will be tried for attempted murder, but the others will be acquitted and Howell’s trial will end in a mistrial. In 1989, Roden will try to murder a man with an axe, and will be committed to a mental instutition for the rest of his life. By 1990, Howell will have established himself as the leader of the Waco Branch Davidians, and will legally change his name to David Koresh, explaining that he believes he is now the head of the Biblical House of David. Koresh is a Hebrew translation of “Cyrus,” the Persian king who allowed the Jews held captive in Babylon to return to Israel. [New York Times, 3/1/1993; Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Adventists Join Koresh at Waco Compound - Seventh-day Adventists and others from around the world will journey to Waco to join the Davidians, who all told number somewhere around 75. According to a multi-part series by the Waco Tribune-Herald based on the recollections and observations of former members (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), the Davidians gather at the compound to “await the end of the world.” The members believe that Koresh alone can open the so-called “Seven Seals” of Biblical prophecy, which will trigger the Apocalypse, destroy the world as we know it, and propel Koresh and his followers into heaven. The compound is heavily armed. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993] Most of the Davidians live communally in an L-shaped compound of beige buildings. A few of the more elderly members live in a trailer four miles from the main compound. The trailer has more amenities than the main building, which lacks central heating and indoor plumbing. The men live separately from the women and children. Members rise early, breakfasting together in a large cafeteria and then going to work. Some of the men have jobs in the Waco area, and many stay, working on what sect member Paul Fatta will describe as a three-year renovation of the compound but what law enforcement officials say is a network of tunnels and bunkers. The children are home-schooled by the women. [New York Times, 3/6/1993]
Former Member: Koresh Brought Apocalyptic Mindset, Violence to Group - According to Davidian David Bunds, who will later leave the group, Koresh, or Howells as he is known, was something of a destabilizing factor from the time of his arrival. Bunds will later say: “We were a very reserved, very conservative group. There were no emotional displays. Then along came Vernon Howell. I remember my father said one day, ‘Well, that guy sounds like he’s going to end up saying he’s a prophet the way he’s acting.’” Bunds will later say that while he was enthralled for a time by Koresh’s personality and his apocalyptic preaching, he became increasingly disturbed at his insistence on having multiple “wives,” his stockpiling of more and more weapons, and the increasingly violent methods of “discipline” being meted out to “disobedient” children and adults alike (adults, Bunds and other “defectors” will later say, are physically beaten by Koresh’s cadre of militantly loyal “Mighty Men”). Bunds will be forced out of the group after questioning Koresh’s Biblical interpretations, and for taking a sect member as his wife against Koresh’s wishes. [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244-246]
Federal Raid, Siege - The Waco Branch Davidians will kill four federal agents attempting to arrest Koresh on gun and sexual abuse charges (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993); most of them, including Koresh, will die in a fiery conflagration after a 51-day standoff (see April 19, 1993). After the February 1993 raid, Waco Chamber of Commerce president Jack Stewart will say: “The sad part about this group is that it has evolved from the peaceful, pastoral group that it started as in the 1930s. Only since this most recent leader have they begun to acquire some of the weaponry and attitudes that they have.” [New York Times, 3/1/1993]
Paul Fatta. [Source: Carol Moore (.net)]The New York Times spends five hours interviewing Branch Davidian member Paul Fatta, who was selling guns at an Austin, Texas, flea market at the time the Davidian community outside Waco, Texas, was raided by federal agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Fatta says had he been at the Davidian compound that morning, he may well have joined his fellows in firing on federal agents: “If I were seeing my women and children being fired at, with bullets coming in, I would have either freaked out and hid under my bed or picked up my gun and fired on who was coming at us.”
Davidians 'Peaceful,' Sect Member Claims - Fatta was one of six Davidians who joined sect leader David Koresh in shooting their way into control of the small community (see November 3, 1987 and After). Nevertheless, Fatta insists that the Davidians are a peaceful community whose overriding interest is spreading their religious message to the world. He acknowledges that the community has accumulated enough weapons to fill a ten-by-ten foot basement vault with weapons; Fatta says the weapons are to protect the group from internecine warfare such as they used to install Koresh as the group’s leader. Fatta says much of the information about the group that has been reported in the media is wrong, particularly the depiction of the group as a violent, paramilitary organization that deliberately isolates itself from the outside world. He says that reports of military-style training by some group members are also incorrect, and that the weapons they own are all legal. However, the former assistant district attorney for McLennan County, El-Hadi J. Shabazz, says that Fatta’s protestations of innocence and peaceful intentions are specious. Shabazz prosecuted Koresh, Fatta, and five other Davidians over the 1987 gun battle that elevated Koresh into power (see November 3, 1987 and After). “Mr. Fatta is very dangerous,” Shabazz warns. Fatta says that the Davidians welcomed a group of men who moved into a house near to their compound even though they believed the group was made up of federal agents conducting surveillance on them. One of the undercover agents, Richard Gonzales, was treated to a tour and several hours of Bible study. “It didn’t matter who he was,” Fatta says. “We befriended him, treated him with respect, like a neighbor.”
Preparing for the Apocalypse - Fatta says the battle with the federal agents was part of a Biblically ordained struggle that highlights the onset of the Apocalyse. “This planet is just like a cemetery,” he says. “We’ll all just waiting to die.” Fatta states flatly that Koresh is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. “I believe David is the Messiah,” he says. “He has shown me over and over that he knows the Book, and he presented Scriptures showing how the Last Day’s events would happen.” He does not attempt to explain Koresh’s polygamy (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), merely saying that the members view the sexual arrangement as a Biblical trial. He warns, “Do not judge a person by his actions, but by the message that he has.” Fatta says he has no plans for the future: “I’ll wait on God; that’s what David says. We’re all waiting to see what’s going to happen. I think we will find out whose side God is on.” [New York Times, 3/6/1993]
A Bradley fighting vehicle. [Source: Wired (.com)]Negotiations between the FBI and the besieged Branch Davidians in their compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), are deteriorating, an FBI spokesman says; federal authorities deploy Army-owned Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams M-1 tanks outside the compound; FBI officials say the armored vehicles are strictly for defensive purposes. According to FBI spokesman Bob Ricks, Davidian leader David Koresh is talking about provoking a bloody confrontation that would fit with prophesies he has made about being a messiah. Negotiations veer between practical discussions and hour-long impromptu Bible study sessions. The New York Times observes, “It is not clear how much of the tough talk on both sides is real and how much is psychological gamesmanship.” Davidian Paul Fatta, who was outside the compound when federal agents raided it on February 28 (see March 5, 1993), says the Davidians have up to 100 guns and rifles, with perhaps 100,000 rounds of ammunition. Some officials say the Davidians’ arsenal may be even larger. Ricks says of Koresh: “He has indicated he would be most pleased if we would engage in a gun battle with him. He has made such statements as: ‘We are ready for war; let’s get it on. Your talk is becoming vain. I’m going to give you an opportunity to save yourself before you get blown away.’” Ricks says Koresh has boasted of having enough weapons and explosives to blow the Bradleys “40 to 50 feet” into the air. However, Fatta says that he believes FBI officials are misrepresenting Koresh’s words, tells a New York Times reporter that the Davidians have nothing remotely powerful enough to destroy a Bradley, and says: “I believe David is for a peaceful resolution. Maybe they’re trying to scare the people in there. I don’t know.” Ricks says that in his earlier statements (see March 5, 1993 and March 7, 1993) he tried to present as positive a face on the situation as possible. Now, he says, he feels it necessary to give what he calls a more complete view. “We have done everything we believe in our power to downplay the negative side of his personality,” Ricks tells reporters. “I think it’s important for you and the American public to maybe have a better understanding of what we are dealing with. It is our belief that he believes his prophecy will be fulfilled if the government engages in an all-out fire fight with him in which he is executed.” [New York Times, 3/8/1993]
Religious experts continue to weigh in on the Branch Davidian siege (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993) and its ultimate resolution. Speculation veers wildly from whether Davidian leader David Koresh, widely believed to have a martyr complex and to be willing to lead his followers in a mass suicide (see Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993, March 3, 1993, March 5, 1993, and March 7-8, 1993), will surrender peacefully or insist on a violent confrontation with federal authorities. Derek Davis, a professor of church-state studies at nearby Baylor University, says: “I’m not sure he’s reachable, period. I’m not sure he’s that interested in surviving. If he genuinely perceives this to be the commencement of the end-times events, then he may see his role as being one of dying a martyr’s death.” Wayman Mullins, a psychologist and professor of criminal justice at Southwest Texas State University, says: “I think, in his mind, this is the prelude to Armageddon. He’s made it pretty clear that to be God’s spokesman on earth, to convert the world to Davidianism, he’s got to become a martyr, he’s got to die. Jesus died, and he sees himself in the same vein. He’s Jesus in the 20th century.” Mullins and others believe the situtation may not be resolved until Easter, April 11. “I think Easter is very critical,” Mullins says. “After all, when did Jesus die?” Davidian Paul Fatta (see March 5, 1993), who was not in the compound when federal agents raided it, says: “I think the talk of a fiery martyrdom is just something that’s being put out by the FBI. I believe his religious views and his views as a man are pretty much the same. He loves his kids. He wants, like any father, to see them grow up and be happy.” But Mullins does not believe that the safety of the approximately 17 children in the compound is Koresh’s top priority. “I think it’s going to be real tough to get them released,” he says. “He’s claiming publicly they’re his seed, but they’re his bargaining chip.” [New York Times, 3/11/1993]
Television news footage of the Branch Davidian conflagration of April 19, 1993. [Source: Anu News (.com)]Many white separatists and right-wing militia members are aghast, appalled, and infuriated by the violent end to the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). Two of those are future Oklahoma City bombers Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995); when McVeigh watches the flames devour the Davidian compound, he stands in Nichols’s living room and weeps. McVeigh has already visited the compound during the siege (see March 1993); in the following weeks, he revisits the scene, collecting pamphlets from the Davidians, taking photographs, and even taking samples of the charred wood left behind. McVeigh begins wearing, and selling at gun shows, caps that depict the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) logo with bullet holes in them (see August 26 - September 15, 1994). He sells flares that can be used as missiles. Moreover, he and Nichols soon begin practicing with explosives and agitating for violent assaults on government officials with local militia members (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994). McVeigh later tells interviewers: “I didn’t define the rules of engagement in this conflict. The rules, if not written down, are defined by the aggressor. It was brutal, no holds barred. Women and children were killed at Waco and Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992). You put back in [the government’s] faces exactly what they’re giving out.” McVeigh’s favorite magazine, Soldier of Fortune, later publishes articles calling the FBI and BATF “the Gestapo” and accusing the government of funneling illegal drugs into the country through the auspices of the DEA; McVeigh will read these articles, and other more overt anti-government publications that directly accuse the government of plotting to enact “new Wacos” throughout the country, with a new fervor. Another favorite is a videotape, “Waco: The Big Lie,” promoted by militia leader Linda Thompson (see April 3, 1993 and September 19, 1994), who accuses the government of deliberately plotting the deaths of everyone inside the Davidian compound and setting the compound afire by shooting flames at the building through a tank. McVeigh will later claim to have learned the “real truth” about the siege after meeting a former Davidian, Paul Fatta, on the gun show circuit (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Late 1994). Nichols’s neighbor Phil Morawski will later recall of McVeigh: “He said he witnessed part of the siege at Waco and was very upset about it; the government overstepped its bounds. Waco is kind of like the battle cry for Tim and many others.” McVeigh’s friend Michael Fortier (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990) will later recall discussing the Davidian debacle with McVeigh, saying, “We both concluded that the federal government had intentionally attacked those people and may not have intentionally started the fire, but they were certainly the cause of the fire and potentially murdered those people in Waco.” Fortier’s wife Lori will recall McVeigh’s position differently: according to her recollection, McVeigh believes that “the government murdered those people.” After the bombing, Dennis Mahon, the head of the Oklahoma cell of the White Aryan Resistance, will tell federal officials about McVeigh, whom he claims to have known under an alias: “I met Tim Tuttle, but I didn’t know he was alias Tim McVeigh. I met him at gun shows (see January 23, 1993 - Early 1994). He sold military stuff, knives, gun parts, camouflage uniforms.… And we talked about Waco. And I said: ‘What comes around goes around. If they keep doing this terrorism on our people, terrorism’s going to happen to them…’ He said: ‘Probably. Probably so.‘… Timothy McVeigh is my hero. Wish we had a thousand more like him. He took action.” Mahon will later be identified by one witness as the person driving the Ryder truck for McVeigh on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing (see April 15, 1995), though the identification is in doubt, and Mahon will not be charged for playing a part in the bombing. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 155, 159; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 76-78; Nicole Nichols, 2003; CNN, 12/17/2007] McVeigh will send videotapes about the Davidian tragedy, such as “Waco: The Big Lie,” to his friends, including his former coworker Carl Lebron (see November 1991 - Summer 1992), his former Army comrade Albert Warnement (see January - March 1991 and After), and his neighbors Richard and Lynn Drzyzga (see October 1990). Lebron considers the videotapes “nonsense,” and the Drzyzgas become concerned that McVeigh may actually believe the “nutty” “paranoia” of the information in them. McVeigh will also write a letter to his childhood friend Steve Hodge, breaking off their friendship because Hodge is not sufficiently enraged by the Davidian tragedy (see July 14, 1994). [Serrano, 1998, pp. 78] McVeigh is not the only one preaching active retribution for Waco. James Nichols, Terry’s older brother (see December 22 or 23, 1988), says they are planning to kill law enforcement officials. Paul Izydorek, a family friend, will later tell a CNN reporter: “Evidently, James had told [Izydorek’s son] one or two times about how they were going to kill cops and judges and, you know, really clean house on all the local government. I didn’t take it serious but I guess maybe that’s what the heck they was really talking about, maybe they was a lot more serious, you know, than I realized.” [Stickney, 1996, pp. 156]
Entity Tags: Philip Morawski, Richard Drzyzga, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Timothy James McVeigh, Paul Gordon Fatta, Terry Lynn Nichols, Michael Joseph Fortier, Steve Hodge, Lori Fortier, Branch Davidians, Lynn Drzyzga, Albert Warnement, Carl Edward Lebron Jr, Paul Izydorek, Dennis Mahon, James Nichols, Linda Thompson, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism, 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
A federal grand jury returns a 10-count indictment, charging 12 Branch Davidians with murder, firearms violations, and conspiracy to kill federal agents. The indictments come as a result of the April 1993 assault on the Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, that resulted in nearly 80 Davidians dying of fire, smoke inhalation, and gunshot wounds (see April 19, 1993), and the February 1993 raid on the compound by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) that left four BATF agents and six Davidians dead (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Most of the Davidians charged left the compound at some time during the 51-day standoff between the Davidians and federal authorities; two of them, Rita Riddle and Renos Avraam, survived the assault itself. The defendants echo claims by their slain leader, David Koresh, that BATF agents fired the first shots and the Davidians were only protecting their home; journalists and federal agents say that the Davidians ambushed the agents as they attempted to surround and enter the compound to arrest Koresh. The defendants also insist that the FBI caused the fires that gutted the compound during the April assault, while FBI officials say the Davidians themselves set the fires. The indictment says that Koresh “gave instructions to spread flammable fuel within the Mount Carmel compound” after the FBI began its assault, with a CS gas barrage. “It was part of the conspiracy that an unidentified co-conspirator would and did give instructions at about noon on April 19, 1993, to start the fires.” Other Davidians facing charges aside from Riddle and Avraam include: Brad Eugene Branch, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Paul Gordon Fatta, Livingstone Fagan, Norman Washington Allison, Graeme Leonard Craddock, Clive J. Doyle, Woodrow Kendrick, Jaime Castillo, and Kathryn Schroeder. [US District Court for the Western District of Texas, 8/1993; Dallas Morning News, 8/7/1993] The trial takes place six months later (see January-February 1994).
Entity Tags: Jaime Castillo, David Koresh, Clive J. Doyle, Branch Davidians, Brad Eugene Branch, Graeme Leonard Craddock, Woodrow Kendrick, Renos Avraam, Rita Riddle, Livingstone Fagan, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Kathryn Schroeder, Norman Washington Allison, Paul Gordon Fatta, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Ten men and one woman, survivors of the Branch Davidian debacle near Waco (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993), are tried for an array of crimes allegedly committed during the initial federal assault on the Mt. Carmel compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and the ensuing siege (see August 7, 1993). (Fourteen other survivors face no charges.) All 11 are charged with conspiring to kill federal agents “with malice aforethought,” and for aiding and abetting such killing. A twelfth defendant, Kathryn Schroeder, pleads guilty to a lesser charge and testifies for the government. Some of the defendants also face charges such as using or carrying firearms in the commission of a violent crime. Ten lawyers represent the defendants. The trial takes place in San Antonio and lasts for seven weeks. Trial testimony casts doubt on the government’s tale of a vicious, unprovoked attack on the agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) who raided the compiund, and the cool, entirely professional response of the BATF and FBI. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Houston Chronicle, 4/21/1997] The defendants accuse the FBI of persecuting them for their unorthodox religious beliefs and for not respecting their constitutional right to bear arms. [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244]
Bullet Holes in Door - Attorney Jack Zimmerman, who represented Davidian Steve Schneider and who met with Schneider during the siege, testifies that he saw the double front door of the compound riddled with bullet holes on the outside, presumably from shots fired by the BATF during its February raid. The door was not recovered from the compound after fire destroyed much of it, even though it was made of steel and presumably would not have vaporized in the flames. Texas Ranger Fred Cummings, who testifies about the details of the Rangers’ search for evidence after the fire, cannot explain what happened to the door, though he does acknowledge that FBI and BATF agents had access to the area between the time that the fire subsided and the time the Rangers took over. Presumably, the defense is trying to give the idea that either FBI or BATF agents absconded with the door in order to conceal evidence. Zimmerman also testifies that he saw eight or nine bullet holes in the roof that “caused the building material to be pooched in or down” showing that “the rounds came from above the ceiling down into the room.” Evidence that would confirm or disprove this claim was destroyed in the fire. BATF agent Roger Ballesteros, the agent assigned to lead the assault on the compound through the front door, testifies that he emerged from the cattle trailer carrying the assembled agents and charged for the front door, in full SWAT gear and carrying a shotgun across his chest. Balesteros testifies that Davidian leader David Koresh opened the door and asked, “What’s going on?” (Koresh and the Davidians were aware that an assault by federal agents was underway.) Balesteros testifies that he shouted: “Police! Lay down! Search warrant!” though he admits not mentioning these statements when he discussed the raid with Texas Rangers afterwards. He says bullets, fired from inside the compound by the Davidians, began spraying through the door moments later, and one struck him in the thumb. Asked how he knows that, he says that he saw holes in the door and splinters of wood pointing outward. The door, as established earlier, was steel and not wood.
Davidians Had Guns for Business Purposes, Gun Dealers Say - Testimony from gun dealers shows that the Davidians were acting as gun dealers themselves, buying and selling weapons for profit at gun shows. The prosecution introduces into evidence dozens of guns found in the ashes of Mt. Carmel that had been illegally converted into fully automatic weapons (see May 26, 1993); some of these weapons are proven by their serial numbers to have been sold to the Davidians by the testifying gun dealers. Photographs of engine lathes, a hydraulic press, and a milling machine show that the Davidians had the equipment to modify legal firearms to make them into illegal versions of those weapons. However, the prosecution fails to unequivocally prove that the illegally modified weapons were modified by the Davidians. Two heavy .50-caliber guns are introduced into evidence, along with the appropriate ammunition, but the defense argues that it is not illegal for citizens to own such guns, nor could it be proven that those weapons had been fired.
Unable to Escape - The FBI has always maintained that it took steps to ensure that any Davidian who wanted to leave the compound during the last assault could do so. Tarrant County medical examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani, testifying about the condition of the bodies found, notes that some Davidians, such as Schneider and Koresh, died from close-range bullet wounds in the head, indicating that they had no intention of trying to escape. However, several women’s bodies were found in the hallway leading to the trapdoor access to the underground school bus at the north end of the building that had been constructed as a tornado shelter. Apparently the women were trying to leave, but they could not because the trapdoor had been buried by debris from the collapsing of the wall pushed in by a tank prior to the fire. All of the children who died in the conflagration, and many of the women, were found in a cinderblock room used for cold storage of food. The room, located under the four-story guard tower, was the strongest and safest area of the compound, furthest from the gas and the FBI armored vehicles. Around 30 bodies were recovered from that room; many, especially the smaller children, were covered with blankets, sleeping bags, and extra clothing, apparently due to attempts by the women to protect the children from the gas and fire. When the room collapsed in on itself, the tower fell on it. Those inside the room died from suffocation, blunt trauma from debris impact, close-range gunshot wounds, and/or smoke and fire.
Gas, Armored Vehicles - FBI agents testify that hundreds of canisters and “ferret rounds” containing CS gas were “inserted,” or fired into, the compound. Some of the ferret rounds bounced off the frame walls, but many entered through windows and other openings. FBI testimony shows that the Davidians began to fire at the agents, or their armored vehicles, after the gas was introduced. When the Davidians began shooting, agents testify, they abandoned the plan to slowly and measuredly introduce gas into the compound over a matter of hours, and began firing gas into the compound as quickly as possible. The order to use CEVs (combat engineering vehicles) to push in walls of the compound were given in order to allow observers to see inside. The CEVs also pressed forward through the compound towards the guard tower (where, unbeknownst to the agents, the women and children were gathering to escape the assault). By that point, the original plans for a gradual and careful assault had been all but abandoned.
Fire - The government prosecutors introduce a plethora of evidence that shows the Davidians themselves set the fires that eventually burned the compound to the ground. High winds aided the spread of the flames. The defense claims that Davidians did not start the fires, but instead the tanks and CEVs knocked over Coleman lanterns, being used for light because the FBI had cut the electricity to the compound. Prosecutors play audiotapes and enter transcripts of the Davidians allegedly making preparations to set the compound afire, obtained through electronic surveillance. Voices on the tapes and in the transcripts say such things as: “The fuel has to go all around to get started,” “Got to put enough fuel in there,” “So, we only light ‘em as they come in,” or as a slightly different version has it, “So, we only light ‘em as soon as they tell me.” The defense argues that if the Davidians indeed poured lantern fuel or other accelerants through the compound, they were doing so in an attempt to stave off the incoming armored vehicles. Defendant Graeme Craddock told a Texas Ranger that he was ordered by one Davidian, Wayne Martin, to pour lantern fuel on any tank that came in through the wall and to light it—a last-ditch tactic that might result in the defenders’ death as well as the attackers’. Testimony shows that the FBI had alerted the Burn Unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital early that morning to be prepared to receive burn victims, and asked for directions as to how to land helicopters bearing burn victims at the hospital. FBI agents wore fireproof suits for the assault. And a helicopter carrying a Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) camera circled over the complex, ready to photograph any outbreak of fire. The FBI maintains that it was prepared for fire, but had no intention of actually causing a fire. The defense notes that the FBI did not initially bring up fire-fighting equipment to the compound. A government witness, arson investigator William Cass, says that films taken at the time of the fire show fire starting almost simultaneously at 12:11 p.m. The strong winds, aided by the holes punched in the walls by the CEVs, helped the fire engulf most of the compound within five minutes. The defense shows an earlier portion of the FLIR video showing a flash or flare of heat in the gymnasium area taking place at 12:08 p.m. Cass testifies that he has never seen that video. Observer logs show that two reports of fire in the gym were made at 12:11; Cass testifies he has never seen those logs. The logs were handled by Paul Gray, chief of the arson investigating team. The defense shows that Gray often testifies on arson incidents on behalf of the BATF, and his wife works in the BATF’s Houston office. Gray’s final report claims that CN tear gas is not flammable and would have actually impeded the spread of fire; testimony shows that the assault did not use CN tear gas, but a very different substance, CS gas delivered by a rather flammable propellant. In 1995, a surviving Davidian will confirm that the sect members, and not the FBI, actually set the fires (see August 4, 1995). In 1999, the FBI will admit to firing pyrotechnic gas canisters into the compound, but will deny that the devices started the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After). In 2000, a prosecutor will be charged with hiding evidence about the canisters from the defense and from a subsequent government investigation (see November 9, 2000).
Verdicts - The jury finds the defendants not guilty of the two most serious crimes, conspiracy to murder federal agents, and aiding and abetting such a conspiracy. The jury convicts five defendants of voluntary manslaughter, defined by Judge Walter Smith as acting “in the sudden heat of passion caused by adequate provocation.” Two defendants are convicted of firearms charges. Seven defendants are convicted of using and carrying firearms “during and in relation to a crime of violence,” convictions set aside by the judge because of the jury’s failure to convict the defendants of guilt in committing those crimes of violence. (The judge later reinstates those convictions.) In all, four are acquitted of all charges and seven are convicted of various crimes. Davidians Renos Avraam, Brad Eugene Branch, Jaime Castillo, Livingstone Fagan, and Kevin A. Whitecliff receive 10-year sentences for voluntary manslaughter, and additional 30-year sentences for using a firearm in a violent crime. Craddock receives 20 years for possessing a grenade and using a firearm in a violent crime. Paul Gordon Fatta receives a 15-year sentence for possessing and conspiring to possess machine guns, though he was not present during the siege. Ruth Riddle is convicted of using or carrying a weapon during a crime. And Schroeder, who cooperated with the prosecution, is convicted of forcibly resisting arrest. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Houston Chronicle, 4/21/1997; Associated Press, 4/19/2006]
Entity Tags: Fred Cummings, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Koresh, Wayne Martin, William Cass, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steve Schneider, Brad Eugene Branch, Branch Davidians, Ruth Riddle, Walter Smith, Renos Avraam, Graeme Leonard Craddock, Jack Zimmerman, Jaime Castillo, Roger Ballesteros, Kathryn Schroeder, Livingstone Fagan, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Paul Gray, Nizam Peerwani, Paul Gordon Fatta
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
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
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