Waco Trial Moves Into 4th Week

Monday, July 10th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WACO, Texas (AP) — Government attorneys in a wrongful death lawsuit hope jurors can hear surveillance audiotapes of Branch Davidians in the sect's compound moments before it was consumed by flames.

As the 51-day standoff came to an end, the voices recorded inside the building could be heard saying, ``pour the fuel'' and ``light the fire,'' lawyers for the government claim.

The recordings are proof that suicidal Davidians, not federal agents, caused the April 19, 1993, fire that consumed the rickety wooden complex, the government said in a motion filed Friday seeking to introduce the tapes into evidence.

Some 80 sect members — including leader David Koresh — died from either gunshots or fire that day.

Attorneys for sect family members and survivors suing the government have argued that jurors in the case should not hear the recordings because the voices have not been identified and therefore do not prove sect members started the blaze.

The recordings were made with tiny eavesdropping devices placed in the compound. In a motion filed last month, plaintiffs argued that introducing the tapes amounted to hearsay because of their anonymous nature.

``Absent voice authentication, the tapes are not admissible for any purpose,'' said the plaintiffs' motion. ``At a minimum, the defendant must present testimony from one or more witnesses able to identify the speakers based on his familiarity with their voices.''

U.S. District Judge Walter Smith has yet to rule on whether they will be admitted as the $675 million wrongful death trial enters its fourth week.

The standoff began Feb. 28, 1993, when agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms unsuccessfully tried to search the complex and arrest Koresh on illegal weapons charges.

A gun fight ensued in which four agents and six Davidians were killed. It triggered the standoff that ended with the compound burning to the ground.

Plaintiffs say agents fired indiscriminately into the building during the raid, but the agents claim they were ambushed by Davidians and were defending themselves.

A fire expert hired by the plaintiffs has testified that tanks used in an FBI tear-gassing operation on the final day turned the compound into kindling by punching holes in the walls, allowing wind gusts to feed the flames.