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Profile: Walter Smith
Walter Smith was a participant or observer in the following events:
The FBI, in the midst of besieging the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), turns two people away from a roadblock preventing private citizens from accessing the compound. The two are Bonnie Haldeman, the mother of Davidian leader David Koresh, and lawyer Richard DeGuerin, hired by Haldeman to represent her son. Judge Walter Smith refuses Haldeman’s request to allow Koresh to meet with DeGuerin. [New York Times, 3/12/1993; Moore, 1995] Davidian aide Steve Schneider tells authorities that Koresh will allow three Davidians to leave the compound, but this does not happen, possibly because of the FBI’s refusal to allow the Haldeman and DeGuerin meetings. [New York Times, 3/12/1993] DeGuerin will later begin representing Koresh (see March 29-31, 1993).
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
Several civil lawsuits filed by survivors of the Branch Davidian tragedy near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), are consolidated and transferred to US District Judge Walter Smith. Smith presided over the criminal trial of 11 Davidians charged with an array of crimes related to the siege and final assault by the FBI (see January-February 1994). The suit alleges the government caused the “wrongful deaths” of the Davidians and asks for $675 million in damages. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]
Judge Walter Smith, presiding over the $675 million wrongful-death civil suit filed by a number of Branch Davidians (see April 1995) against the federal government and a number of its employees and officials, removes some of the defendants and plaintiffs from the proceedings. However, he rules that the case can go to trial. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]
James B. Francis Jr., the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety and a fundraiser for the presidential campaign of Governor George W. Bush, convinces federal judge Walter Smith to order that government vaults containing 12 tons of evidence from the Branch Davidian compound near Waco be opened, and the contents reexamined. The Davidian compound was destroyed six years ago as the culmination of a 51-day standoff between the residents and the FBI (see April 19, 1993). Smith orders the reopening of the vaults after inquiries from an independent filmmaker, Michael McNulty (see July 29, 1999), and a lawyer, David Hardy, who has long challenged the government’s account of events. There are three kinds of evidence to be examined, Francis has said: “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.” Smith’s order reads in part: “First and foremost, the parties to civil litigation pending in this court have the right to seek access (see April 1995). Second, the events that took place between Feb. 28 and April 19, 1993, and thereafter, have resulted in sometimes intense interest from the national media and the members of the public. There may come a time when persons other than the current civil litigants would be allowed access to the materials.” [Associated Press, 8/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/17/1999] One document that will prove to be extremely significant is the 49th and final page of a December 1993 lab report that has long ago been made available to lawmakers and attorneys. The 49th page had been removed. It states that FBI investigators who examined the scene at Waco found a “fired US military 40mm shell casing which originally contained a CS gas round,” and two “expended 40mm tear gas projectiles.” (The Justice Department will later claim that the prosecution and defense lawyers in the civil trial received the 49th page as well.) [Associated Press, 9/11/1999] The Texas Rangers review the contents, and find a spent military tear-gas canister, which forces the FBI and the Justice Department to admit that their agents fired incendiary gas canisters into the compound during the final assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). The government has previously denied firing any weapons into the compound that might have caused the conflagration that consumed the building and killed almost all of the residents. As a result of the investigation, the federal government names a special prosecutor to investigate whether there was a government cover-up (see September 7-8, 1999 and July 21, 2000), and Attorney General Janet Reno (see July 29, 1999) has to weather calls from Republican lawmakers to resign. Later, Francis denies reopening the case for political reasons. His decision “unleashed a series of forces that were apparently a lot bigger than what I recognized,” he will say. “I never dreamed that it would turn into something like this.” He will claim that he is “doing everything in my power to not politicize this” controversy. Governor Bush himself refrains from commenting on the issue, though his chief of staff helped bring McNulty and Hardy to Francis’s attention. Hardy will say of Francis, “I don’t think there’s any question that he is the shining light of this entire inquiry.” Hardy used his friends in the Texas gun lobby to contact former Texas Senator Jerry Patterson; Patterson contacted Bush’s chief of staff Clay Johnson, who in turn referred him to Francis. “I think what happened to Jim Francis is he initially wanted to be very low-key and then as more and more revelations began to surface, he became angry and disgusted, as all of us are,” Patterson will say. “This was not a role that he sought.” As for his own role, Francis will say: “It’s important that the facts come out, whatever those are. I’m not a hero, but I have done the right thing.” [Excite, 7/28/1999; Excite, 7/29/1999; Associated Press, 8/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/17/1999] In July, the Justice Department called Francis’s allegations of mismanagement and possible cover-ups “nonsense.” [Excite, 7/28/1999; Excite, 7/29/1999]
Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, George W. Bush, David Hardy, Clay Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Walter Smith, Texas Rangers, James B. Francis Jr, US Department of Justice, Janet Reno, Michael McNulty, Jerry Patterson
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Special counsel John Danforth, heading the government’s probe into the 1993 Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and September 7-8, 1999), asks the judge presiding over a civil lawsuit filed by some of the Davidian survivors (see April 1995) for a delay in the suit’s proceedings. In a filing for Judge Walter Smith, Danforth explains that the government inquiry seeks to depose witnesses who will also testify in the civil suit, and wants to interview those witnesses before they testify for the lawsuit, saying: “It is my firm belief that our inquiry will benefit by interviewing witnesses prior to their preparation for testimony in a civil trial. Because a civil trial inherently involves advocacy, testimony tends to be very well-rehearsed and coordinated with the testimony of other witnesses.” Danforth wants to find out if the FBI deliberately covered up its use of incendiary gas grenades during the April 19, 1993 siege (see August 25, 1999 and After), and whether agents fired shots during the assault on the Davidian compound. One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys has volunteered to postpone taking depositions from Attorney General Janet Reno and two key FBI agents for two weeks, but is reluctant to delay the depositions for 30 days; another lawyer intends to resist the request completely. [Associated Press, 9/17/1999]
The special counsel’s office investigating the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993) asks for court-supervised tests to determine if flashes recorded by FBI infrared cameras during the final assault on the Davidian compound were made by gunshots fired by FBI agents (see October 7, 1999). The FBI has always insisted that its agents fired no shots during the assault. The Justice Department has refused similar requests from lawyers representing surviving Davidians in a lawsuit against the government (see April 1995). Justice Department officials say that such testing would be without critical data that the government has chosen to withhold under the rubric of national security. However, deputy special counsel Edward L. Dowd believes otherwise. In a letter to Judge Walter Smith, presiding over the civil suit, Dowd writes: “Both the trust of the public and the truth-seeking process are not best served by the course of events as they are unfolding. We propose therefore that the court supervise a neutral FLIR [forward-looking infrared] re-creation.” The Justice Department is facing growing criticism over what some perceive as its lack of cooperation in providing documents and other evidence relating to the Davidian siege and final assault. Even some FBI officials have privately complained that the department’s handling of the matter has further damaged the bureau’s credibility. Experts hired by lawyers in the suit have determined that the flashes captured by FBI cameras may well have been gunfire. Michael Caddell, lead lawyer for the Davidians in the civil suit, says that the special counsel’s request “forces the issue.” Caddell adds: “The procedure that’s been proposed is clearly designed to protect any legitimate security concerns by the FBI and the Department of Justice. They’ve taken away the one legitimate reason that they could have for refusing. Any refusal now is because they already know what the answer is going to be. I think that would be the most damning admission of liability they could possibly make. It’s clear now that the office of special counsel, the courts, and the plaintiffs are all interested in getting to the truth of what happened on April 19. The question that’s lingering out there is, is the government interested in getting at the truth?” FBI officials have offered to secretly conduct an examination of the FLIR videotapes for the special counsel’s investigation. [Dallas Morning News, 11/10/1999; Dallas Morning News, 11/16/1999] Smith will order the tests (see November 15, 1999).
US District Judge Walter Smith overrides Justice Department objections and orders independent field testing to help determine whether government agents fired at the Branch Davidian compound in the last hours of a 1993 siege (see April 19, 1993 and November 5, 1999). In a three-page ruling, Smith writes that he has been “persuaded” by arguments from Branch Davidian lawyers and the office of special counsel John Danforth that the tests are needed to resolve whether flashes of light recorded by FBI infrared cameras were caused by government gunfire. FBI officials have consistently denied allegations that any of their agents fired gunshots during the final assault. Flashes recorded by an airborne FBI infrared camera just before the compound began burning are inexplicable electronic “anomalies,” the FBI claims. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians in their civil suit against the government (see April 1995), says: “It again demonstrates that Judge Smith wants to get at the truth. If they [the FBI] really believe that’s not gunfire on that video, then the government’s lawyers should embrace this test with open arms.” [Dallas Morning News, 11/16/1999] The special counsel’s office also requests the actual guns carried by FBI agents during the assault. Examination of the weapons may help determine if agents fired during the six-hour assault. [Associated Press, 11/16/1999] FBI officials have secretly offered to conduct private tests for Danforth’s investigators, though Justice Department lawyers have rejected a proposal from Caddell and the Branch Davidian lawyers for a joint public test. These actions, along with a warning from Justice Department lawyers that they intended to use national security exemptions to withhold data needed to ensure accurate public tests, impelled Danforth’s office to ask for the public tests. Smith rules, “The court is persuaded that one FLIR [infrared] test should be conducted, with participation and observation by the parties and the OSC [office of special counsel].” [Dallas Morning News, 11/16/1999]
A newly released surveillance photograph taken during the FBI’s final assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), casts doubt on theories that FBI agents opened fire on the Davidians during the assault (see September 14, 1999, October 1999, October 7, 1999, November 5, 1999, and November 15, 1999). The photo is part of a batch submitted to the Danforth investigation (see September 7-8, 1999) and to Judge Walter Smith, who is presiding over the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Davidian survivors against the government (see April 1995). The photograph was taken on April 19, 1993, within seconds of the time when a flash appears on an infrared surveillance videotape at 11:24 a.m. Experts have claimed that such flashes indicate gunfire from FBI agents; however, no one is in the vicinity of the flash as shown in the photograph. Smith has ordered tests to be done to determine if the flashes on the videotapes are, indeed, gunfire. Lawyer Michael Caddell, speaking for the Davidians, says the photograph proves nothing: “Seeing one or two or 10 photographs doesn’t tell you a whole lot.” Two FBI planes were flying over the compound during the attack. One, an FBI Nightstalker, took infrared videotape of the scene and the other took still photographs on film. Until recently, the two had not been compared to one another. The infrared tapes show a tank destroying the back wall of the Davidians’ gymnasium just before 11:30 a.m.; at 11:24, the tape shows a flash off the right rear corner of the tank. The photo was taken almost at that same instance; no one can be seen in the photo, casting doubt on claims that someone was near the tank firing into the compound. Caddell notes that the photographs are not time-stamped, and the times of the photos must be estimated based on the amount of damage done to the gymnasium. “Being able to identify what time it is and whatever the precise moment when someone was firing from the rear of the tank is very suspect unless you’ve got a complete roll of film and you can see the entire sequence,” he says. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2000; Associated Press, 1/13/2000]
Six postal inspectors and two Army soldiers, all dressed in a variety of FBI-standard assault garb, reenact key scenarios from the 1993 FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The purpose is to recreate “flashes” observed in 1993 infrared videotapes made by FBI observers during the assault, and determine if they were indeed gunfire from FBI agents, as some have alleged (see November 15, 1999). The exercise is done at the behest of District Judge Walter Smith, who ordered it as part of the proceedings of a civil suit by surviving Davidians against the federal government (see April 1995); additionally, the scenario is part of the evidentiary gathering by federal special counsel John Danforth, investigating the role of the FBI in the burning of the Davidian compound (see September 7-8, 1999). FBI officials who view the infrared tapes say they bear out their long-held assertions that none of their agents fired their guns during the April 19 assault on the Davidian compound. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians in the lawsuit, says he believes the simulations will prove that the FBI shot at the compound, which is what his own experts reviewing the videos have said. US Attorney Michael Bradford, one of the government’s lead lawyers in the case, disagrees. “What we’re trying to do here… is get this issue hopefully put to rest so that the American public will not continue to hear what we consider a baseless allegation without foundation that the FBI was out in the back of that compound shooting that day,” he says. “It didn’t happen.” [New York Times, 3/20/2000; Washington Post, 3/20/2000]
Public Precluded from Seeing Videotapes - The exercise takes place at Fort Hood, Texas, under Danforth’s supervision. Initially, the infrared videos of the exercises were to be released to the public, but Smith seals the videos from public view. And, siding with Danforth against the Davidian lawyers, Smith denies motions by several news media organizations to witness the test. The New York Times writes, “The lack of public access has created the possibility that both sides in the case would offer conflicting opinions without any public review of the videos.” An independent analysis of the videos conducted by the private British company that conducts the simulations may be released to the public after they are turned over to the court some time in April. [New York Times, 2/17/2000; New York Times, 3/20/2000]
Simulations Carried Out to Determine Whether Videotaped 'Flashes' Might Be Gunfire - Danforth, Smith, and a group of about 20 observers watch the simulations, including representatives from the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Texas Rangers, and private lawyers representing the plaintiffs. In the simulations, the eight participants fire different weapons from prone and kneeling positions. They then slowly advance to a prescribed firing line, where they fire a series of single shots followed by short bursts and then long bursts of automatic gunfire. They repeat the exercise four times, as an FBI “Nightstalker” surveillance aircraft and a British Navy helicopter take turns filming from different angles. Additionally, an armored vehicle is driven beside a field littered with debris like twisted aluminum, broken glass, and pools of water, to see if light flashes from the debris could have caused similar flashes on the infrared video that could be mistaken for gunfire. Bradford has said that no matter how the videos are interpreted, they cannot be taken as proof that agents fired guns during the assault. “If there’s a flash in the testing, you can’t just conclude that means there was gunfire on April 19th,” Bradford said. “To me, that would mean the opposite. It would indicate it’s not a gun flash because you can’t see a person there. There’s more to be analyzed than just the flashes.” The private British firm, Vector Data Systems, was chosen in part because it owns FLIR, or “forward-looking infrared,” video cameras similar to those used by the FBI in 1993; the bureau has since abandoned those video cameras for more current technology. [New York Times, 2/17/2000; New York Times, 3/20/2000]
Davidian Lawyer: No Broad Conspiracy by FBI, Justice Department to Conceal Truth - Caddell disagrees with some Davidian supporters in discounting the broader conspiracy theories they advocate. “I know that may disappoint some people,” he says. “But this is not a big conspiracy, it’s a small conspiracy. There were a handful of people on April 19 who took matters into their own hands and disobeyed the orders of the attorney general and the FBI leadership. Those people have to be held accountable.” Of the Danforth investigators, Caddell says: “I think they’ll issue an honest report, a fair report. And I think it will be critical in many respects.” [Waco Tribune-Herald, 2/18/2000; Washington Post, 3/20/2000]
Judge Walter Smith, presiding over the $675 million civil suit brought by survivors and family members of the Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see April 1995), announces that a court expert has determined that neither the FBI nor the Davidians fired weapons during the final day of the siege (see April 19, 1993). The expert’s preliminary study of infrared videotapes finds no firearm muzzle flashes from either federal agents or sect members (see March 20, 2000). [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]
Judge Walter Smith, presiding over the $675 million civil suit brought by survivors and family members of the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see April 1995 and June 6, 2000), rules that the question of whether FBI agents fired on Davidians during the final siege (see May 10, 2000) will not be considered by the advisory jury that will determine whether the government is culpable for the “wrongful deaths” of some 80 Davidians. Instead, Smith says he will revisit the issue when a court-appointed expert becomes available to provide testimony. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]
An advisory jury of five panelists in Waco, Texas, rules that law enforcement agents did not start the gun battle that began the Waco standoff between law enforcement officials and the Branch Davidians (see April 19, 1993), and decides that the federal government owes nothing to the Davidians who survived the conflagration. The panel takes just over an hour to decide that the government has no liability in the BATF raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), standoff, FBI assault, and culminating fire. The presiding judge, Walter Smith, will issue a final verdict next month after an expert testifies as to the possibility that the FBI fired into the compound during the siege, actions the FBI and Justice Department have long denied (see June 12, 2000). The civil suit had asked for $675 million in damages for the government’s allegedly causing the “wrongful deaths” of the Davidians. Waco music shop owner Bill Buzze says he and his fellow residents are ready for the publicity and the notoriety surrounding the Davidians to come to an end. “We really want it all to just go away,” he says. “It’s gone on too long, cost too much money, and hurt too many people.” Buzze’s employee Inez Bederka is not sure that people will forget so quickly. “I think it will always be on Waco, the stigma,” she says. “People are still putting Waco down real hard these days. The outside world just won’t treat you fair after a thing like that.… [I]t’s a shame that something bad like that had to happen before people heard about Waco.” Buzze says that many people have an unwarranted fascination and even fear of Waco and the surrounding area. “The Chamber of Commerce has a tough job now,” Buzze says. “They have to reassure people that we’re not going to shoot them if they come down to visit.” Chamber of Commerce president Jack Stewart is quick to point out that the Branch Davidians did not live in Waco proper, but in Elk, a small township on the outskirts of Waco. [Waco Journal, 7/18/2000; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997) says that he bombed the Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) after considering a plan to assassinate Attorney General Janet Reno. McVeigh’s statement comes in a written response he gives to questions submitted by Fox News reporter Rita Cosby. McVeigh calls the bombing both a retaliatory strike and a pre-emptive one against an “increasingly militaristic and violent federal government.” Last month, McVeigh’s admission of his role in the bombing was made public by two reporters, in which he called the deaths of children in the blast “collateral damage” (see March 29, 2001). McVeigh provides the answers to the Fox reporters’ questions to make sure his motives for setting the bomb are clear. “I explain this not for publicity,” he writes. “I explain so that the record is clear as to my thinking and motivations in bombing a government installation.” He notes again that the date of April 19 was chosen to reflect the date of the Branch Davidian debacle (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), calling the government’s assault on the Davidian compound the equivalent of the Chinese government’s “deploying tanks against its own citizens.” McVeigh says he waited two years for the government to correct its “abuse of power,” and became angry when “they actually gave awards and bonus pay to those agents involved, and conversely, jailed the survivors of the Waco inferno after the jury wanted them set free” (see January-February 1994). McVeigh says he observed what he calls “multiple and ever-more aggressive raids across the country” by the government that constituted what he calls an unacceptable pattern of behavior. He says violent action against the government became an option for him only after protest marches, letter-writing campaigns, and media awareness “failed to correct the abuse.” His first thought was “a campaign of assassination,” including Reno, Judge Walter Smith, who handled the Branch Davidian trial, and Lon Horiuchi, the FBI agent who shot to death the wife of white separatist Randy Weaver during the Ruby Ridge siege (see August 31, 1992 and August 21-31, 1992). Assassinating Reno, McVeigh says, would “mak[e] her accept ‘full responsibility’ in deed, not just word,” for the Davidian disaster. But, he says, federal agents are merely soldiers, and he decided to strike against them at what he calls one of their command centers. The bombing, he says, was “morally and strategically equivalent to the US hitting a government building in Serbia, Iraq, or other nations,” and therefore was acceptable for that reason. “I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile, by bombing a government building and the government employees within that building who represent that government,” he writes. “Based on the observations of the policies of my own government, I viewed this action as an acceptable option.” Asked about calling the children slain in the blast “collateral damage,” McVeigh writes: “Collateral Damage? As an American news junkie; a military man; and a Gulf War Veteran, where do they think I learned that (It sure as hell wasn’t Osami [sic] Bin Laden!)” [Fox News, 4/26/2001; Associated Press, 4/27/2001; New York Times, 4/27/2001; Fox News, 4/27/2001]
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