Bentsen picks 3 to oversee cult probe

May 01, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration has chosen the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, a former Watergate prosecutor and a journalism professor to oversee its investigation of the February raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, senior officials said yesterday.

Officials said Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen had selected Chief Willie L. Williams, Henry Ruth, the former prosecutor, and Edwin O. Guthman to evaluate the investigation. Mr. Guthman, a former official in the Justice Department who worked under Robert F. Kennedy, is now a professor of journalism at the University of Southern California.

Mr. Bentsen is expected to announce the appointments on Monday, as investigators from Washington travel to Texas to begin their review.

Near Waco yesterday, workers bulldozed the concrete bunker where the bodies of 32 sect members were found after the April 19 fire that razed the sprawling wooden building. The death toll from the fire remains at 72, and the authorities say some bodies may never be found.

Public officials said at a news conference here yesterday that next week they would exhume the bodies of five cult members who were killed in the Feb. 28 shootout. Cult members buried these bodies in a tunnel under the compound and in a separate grave outside the compound.

The authorities in Texas refused to confirm reports that more members of the Branch Davidian sect had died of gunshot wounds, presumably right before the fire enveloped the compound.

On Thursday, Darrell Thompson, a spokesman for the Tarrant County Medical Examiners Office, which is performing the autopsies, told the Houston Chronicle that a total of 12 cult members could have died either from a gunshot wound or smoke and carbon monoxide gases. Before this report, seven bodies had been reported to have bullet wounds.

At yesterday's news conference in Waco, Judge David W. Pareya, who has jurisdiction over the investigation of the deaths, said that the medical examiner had no authority to release such preliminary information, and he refused to confirm Mr. Thompson's report. Mr. Thompson subsequently said in a telephone interview yesterday that it had been a mistake to provide the information. He would not confirm the discovery of five new gunshot wounds, but he did not deny the report.

Officials still do not know how many people died in the fire. But they doubt that there were 95 people inside the compound, as David Koresh, the cult's leader, had told officials. Since nine members survived, officials had been working on the assumption that they would find 86 bodies.

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