ATF agents were ambushed, one tells court

January 19, 1994|By Fort Worth Star-Telegram

SAN ANTONIO -- A federal agent who came face to face with David Koresh at the start of a raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco testified yesterday that ATF agents were ambushed Feb. 28 when they approached the building.

"It was very clear to me that that was an ambush. They were waiting for us to get closer and closer before they opened up. That's what happened," said Roland Ballesteros.

The ATF agent spent much of a contentious five hours on the witness stand fielding questions from defense lawyers about differences between his testimony yesterday and his earlier statements.

Agent Ballesteros, the first participant in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raid to testify in the federal murder conspiracy trial of 11 Branch Davidians, said he was within 15 feet of the door when he confronted Mr. Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidians.

Agent Ballesteros, using a scale model of the compound, showed jurors how he and other agents made their way to the front of the two-story building only to be repelled by the gunfire.

Six defense lawyers later took turns hammering at Agent Ballesteros about differences in his testimony and statements he made to officials after the raid and in pretrial hearings.

Agent Ballesteros said yesterday that he yelled, "Police. Lay down!" as he approached the compound. When Mr. Koresh called out, "What's going on?" Agent Ballesteros said he replied, "Search warrant."

He testified that he saw two people behind Mr. Koresh but did not see any of the defendants during the raid and subsequent gun battle.

He said Mr. Koresh "made some kind of a smirk and closed the door."

Although he said he had heard shots earlier, Agent Ballesteros said the first gunshots he encountered came when he was within 3 feet of the double front doors of the compound. A "circle of bullets" came through the door from the inside, one bullet striking him in the left thumb, he said.

Agent Ballesteros testified that he vaulted a small fence and landed in a dog pen next to the door. He was pinned down during the 40-minute shootout by what he called a "magnificent" amount of gunfire. He said he never fired any of the three weapons he was carrying.

"I did not have a target that was threatening me. We're trained that way," he said.

Agent Ballesteros, a six-year veteran assigned to the ATF office in Houston, said he was one of about 10 agents who rode to the compound in a tarp-draped cattle trailer.

Four ATF agents were killed and 16 wounded in the battle. Five people inside the center also died from gunshot wounds, although prosecutors said that some of the wounded were shot by Branch Davidians wishing to end their suffering.

If convicted, the 11 defendants face up to life in federal prison.

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