Davidian Lawyer Shows Video of Kids

Tuesday, June 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WACO, Texas (AP) — Punctuating his statements with video of the children killed at the Branch Davidian compound, an attorney opened his case Tuesday in a wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government.

Beginning with 2-year-old Hollywood Sylvia, plaintiffs' attorney Michael Caddell read a list of children ages 2 to 17 who were killed or injured during the government's 51-day siege of the Mount Carmel compound outside Waco.

``The evidence will show she never owned a gun,'' Caddell said of Hollywood. ``Never fired a gun. Never broke the law. Never hurt anyone. Hollywood died on April 19, 1993, when she was 2.''

About 80 people, including at least 17 children, died on April 19, 1993, in the fiery conclusion of the standoff that started with a federal raid directed at illegal weapons.

The $675 million lawsuit consolidates nine civil cases filed in 1994 after the initial raid and the later deadly fire. The trial is expected to last about a month.

Caddell said that lawsuit is about revealing the ``truth about what happened at Mount Carmel and the responsibility for what happened.''

Plaintiffs' attorneys were expected to argue that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents used excessive force in the raid that started the standoff on Feb. 28, 1993; that the government may have caused at least two of the fires that destroyed the compound 51 days later; that it improperly withheld firefighting assistance; and whether using tanks to push into the compound deviated from a plan approved by Attorney General Janet Reno.

The Feb. 28 raid set off a gunfight in which four agents and six Davidians were killed. In 1994, five Davidians were convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the agents' deaths.

After the April 19 fire, sect leader David Koresh and some 80 of his followers were found dead, some from the blaze, others from gunshot wounds.

Among the survivors scheduled to testify is Jaunessa Wendel, who was 8 when government agents first raided the compound where she lived with her family. Another, Natalie Nobrega, was 10 at the time.

Both girls were injured and lost parents during the siege.

U.S. District Judge Walter Smith had not yet decided Tuesday morning whether documents from FBI negotiators who were at the compound would be allowed as evidence.

Among the evidence the government wanted the judge to keep out was a March 7, 1993, memorandum from FBI criminal profiler Peter Smerick to on-scene commander Jeffery Jamar. The document warned Jamar that if the FBI took ``a physical action'' to end the standoff and children died, FBI agents would be blamed even if they were not responsible.

Jamar ordered the use of tanks to insert tear gas into the compound on April 19, 1993, to force out the Branch Davidians. Fire broke out about six hours into the operation, destroying the compound.

``That's the best evidence we have from the government, period,'' said Jim Brannon, another of the plaintiff's lawyers.

Government lawyers said the memo fell under ``discretionary function'' privilege, which shields the federal government — even if its agents' actions proved negligent — from liability in its decisions. The law is designed to give federal officials the ability to act without the fear of being sued.