Waco Plaintiffs Wrap Up Testimony

Thursday, June 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WACO, Texas (AP) — After audiotapes revealed the panic on both sides of the 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound, attention has shifted to the final, fiery day of the 51-day siege.

Plaintiffs in the Davidian wrongful death trial on Wednesday wrapped up their testimony with 911 tapes which captured exchanges between a member of the Davidians and officials.

``There are 75 men around us and they are shooting at us at Mount Carmel!'' sect member Wayne Martin screamed. ``Tell them there are children and women in here and to call it off!''

The shooting began Feb. 28, 1993, when federal agents tried to serve search and arrest warrants on the Mount Carmel complex outside Waco on suspected gun violations. Four agents and six Davidians died that day.

The ordeal ended 51 days later when the FBI tear gassed the wooden complex and a fire engulfed the building. In the end, about 80 Davidians were killed either by gunfire or the blaze.

Survivors and family members of the Davidians are seeking $675 million in a wrongful death lawsuit that, among other things, argues that federal agents fired indiscriminately, knowing women and children were inside. The government contends that sect members shot first during the raid and started the fire.

Michael Caddell, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said he plans next to present testimony about whether the government started the fire, whether it was negligent by withholding firefighting equipment and whether the use of tanks to push into the compound deviated from the operations plan approved by Attorney General Janet Reno.

Reno's videotaped deposition may be presented.

For the first time, a jury heard the entire first 911 tape of the beginning of the raid and siege. The segment played Wednesday captured Martin's insistence that he had a right to shoot back.

``I have a right to defend myself! They started shooting first!'' Martin yelled in a speakerphone to McLennan County Sheriff's Lt. Larry Lynch. ``Tell them to hold their fire, leave the property and we'll talk!''

Pops of gunfire are heard in the background as sheriff's officials scrambled to calm Martin while simultaneously trying to reach federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents at the scene.

More of the exchange was heard when government attorneys countered with tape segments of their own. Their excerpts included recordings of Lynch trying to persuade Martin to maintain the cease-fire so injured agents could be retrieved and to arrange help for the injured.

The injured agents were removed, but the Davidians rejected medical help.

``We don't want anything from your country,'' Martin said on one tape. ``That's what our wounded are telling us. They don't want your help.''

Martin and four of his children ultimately died in the fire.

U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford, who is a lead counsel for the government, said as he left the courthouse: ``We do not believe the plaintiffs have proven through the evidence they presented so far that the ATF is responsible for anything.''

But Caddell said the 911 tapes demonstrated poor leadership and judgment by law enforcement.

``I have to believe there was a mistake, an error in judgment on both sides,'' Caddell said. ``I think the ATF made the first error in judgment and I think the most serious error in judgment.''