by Benedict D. LaRosa
Note: Ben LaRosa's regular column will return next issue. We wanted to take this time to update you on the Branch Davidian trail plus related activities in Montana.
Far from being a religious community armed to the teeth, few Branch Davidians owned guns. The vast majority of the firearms stored at Mt. Carmel belonged to three men David Koresh, Paul Fatta, and Mike Schroeder. It was part of a gun and military surplus business run by the three men. Schroeder and Fatta often sold guns, ammunition, de-milled grenades, and surplus military equipment at gun shows throughout Texas. In fact, Fatta was attending a gun show in Austin at the time of the February 28 raid with many of the guns for which government agents were looking. Many of the Branch Davidians at Mt. Carmel disliked firearms including such prominent members as Koresh's right hand man, Steve Schneider, Harvard educated lawyer. Wayne Martin, and David Thibodeau.
Texas Rangers testified under cross-examination by defense attorneys that there was no tactical reason for the destruction by federal agents of some vehicles and other personal property belonging to the Branch Davidians at Mt. Carmel during the siege. Apparently, the agents wantonly vandalized, looted, and destroyed vehicles and even children's toys left outside the center's walls as an act of revenge, out of frustration, or in an outburst of senseless emotion. On March 8, federal agents also heavily damaged the building housing the Mag Bag and destroyed much of its contents despite the assurance of its owner, Gary Welch, a businessman not connected with the Branch Davidians, to open the premises for them.
|Protestors gather on San Antonio streets to lend their support to the Branch Davidian members on trial. © Courtesy of Rod Norberg. Global Communications.|
A Bureau of Alcohol. Tobacco, & Firearms (BATF) team leader wounded in the February 28 attack testified that two teams with automatic weapons, shotguns, and stun grenades planned to make dynamic entries through windows along the roof while another team did the same through the front door. He admitted on cross-examination that no one on the roof teams called out that they were police, had a search warrant, or instructed the occupants to lie down. He also admitted that the roof teams were to conduct the dynamic entries even if the team approaching the front entrance was peacefully received by the Branch Davidians.
Robert Rodriguez, the BATF agents who had infiltrated the Branch Davidians, testified on January 28 that he saw no weapons, illegal or otherwise, at Mt. Carmel. He left the complex an hour before the February 28 raid.
Prosecution witness, Davidian Marjorie Thomas, seemed to help the defense more than the prosecution. Thomas, a young woman in her twenties, suffered burns over 50% of her body making her look decades older. Because of her injuries, she testified by video tape. Defense attorneys were present and cross-examined her when the tapes were made.
Thomas explained that the so-called suicide pact was actually a plan to choose the time and manner of their death if the FBI carried out their threat to kill everyone who didn't come out and if David Koresh died from what appeared to be mortal wounds. It was designed to "send a message to the world" before nationwide television. The plan was scrapped when Koresh began to recover and the FBI failed to carry out its threat.
|Defense exhibit portraying details of Mt. Carmel compound. © Courtesy of Rod Norberg, Global Communications.|
When asked by defense attorneys what would have happened had the BATF agents just come to the front door, pushed it in. and stormed through the house. Thomas responded, "We wouldn't have shot them." She had gone to Mt. Carmel, not to attack anyone, she added, but to study and live by the Bible.
The jury listened to several hours of wiretapped tapes of the Davidians. They proved inconclusive. Most of the tapes were very difficult to understand. The prosecution claimed they prove that the Davidians had a suicide pact which included setting fire to the Mt. Carmel center. Defense attorneys said the voices were too garbled to indicate anything other than confusion and attempts to reestablish communicate with each other. The individual who transcribed the tapes for the FBI admitted under cross-examination that some conversations had been left out after a meeting with the prosecution.
|Firearms Purportedly Found in the Mt. Carmel Ruins|
|12 gauge shotguns||13|
|37 mm flare gun/launcher||7|
|Asst. Pistols & Revolvers||8|
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