ATF agent tells cult trial of dash for cover

January 21, 1994|By Cox News Service

SAN ATONIO — SAN ANTONIO -- During a gun battle at the cult's compound last year, Branch Davidians sprayed federal agents with machine-gun fire that sounded like a Chinese New Year celebration, an agent has testified.

"It sounded like if someone just took a series of firecrackers all strung together and if they just dropped them all around you," said Special Agent Kevin Richardson said yesterday.

Mr. Richardson and several other Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents described their frantic -- for cover as bullets rained around them, and the dizzying exchange of gunfire that started seconds after the ill-fated raid began.

The agents, testifying at the murder-conspiracy trial in federal court here for 11 members of the Waco religious cult, said the shots started after they got out of livestock trailers and that the fire came from their left.

The statements appear to conflict with earlier testimony from other agents who said the gunfire originated from their right. One agent testified Tuesday he heard gunshots as agents stepped off the trailers.

"No witness is telling the same story as to when the first shots were fired or when," defense attorney Dan Cogdell, who represents cult member Clive Doyle, said afterward. "They all say it was far from where they were.

"Some of that is natural," the lawyer added. "If you have 20 people watching a wreck at an intersection, you're going to probably get eight different stories. We're seeing some of that here."

Cult members' attorneys, who contend their clients fired at the ,, agents in self-defense, have said that who fired the first shot is a crucial issue in the case. They have attempted to show that ATF agents fired first.

Also yesterday, the jury of eight women and four men heard from Waco Tribune-Herald reporter Marc Masferrer, the first witness so far who is not a law enforcement officer. The reporter was covering the Feb. 28 raid.

"Based on what I saw and heard, I believe it was the people inside the [compound] who fired first," said Mr. Masferrer, who took cover in a ditch shortly after the firefight began and bullets whistled by.

Defense attorneys sought to discredit his testimony by pointing out that the reporter was about 300 yards from the front of the compound.

"At that distance, those people would look like ants," Douglas Tinker, who represents cult member Brad Branch, said later outside the courthouse.

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