Agents were 'butchered,' cult trial jurors are told

February 23, 1994|By Houston Chronicle

SAN ANTONIO -- Eleven Branch Davidians "butchered and tortured" federal agents after ambushing them when they tried to arrest cult leader David Koresh on weapons charges, a prosecutor told jurors in final arguments in the cultists' murder and conspiracy trial.

But defense attorneys countered that U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms leaders were the real criminals in the case, because they trained their agents to be "bloodthirsty."

Closing arguments were to continue today when four remaining defense attorneys and chief prosecutor Ray Jahn conclude their cases. Jurors -- who were sequestered for the first time Monday night -- could begin deliberating today.

Defense lawyers also claimed that the government indicted the 11 defendants in an effort to cover ATF wrongdoing in the disastrous raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco.

"When someone in government messes up, somebody has to pay," said defense attorney Stanley Rentz. "They're trying to make our people pay."

As the trial that has lasted almost two months neared a close yesterday, prosecutor Bill Johnston told jurors that the defendants cemented their conspiracy to slay the agents when they accepted guns as part of Mr. Koresh's doomsday philosophy.

"Guns were handed out in the chapel," Mr. Johnston said.

Mr. Johnston argued that the Davidians were "selfish and greedy" individuals who followed Mr. Koresh's doomsday philosophy and sacrificed their own children "in a conspiracy to die" in the war with "the beast" -- Mr. Koresh's terminology for the government.

Mr. Johnston laid out the government's view on how each of the 11 defendants participated in the conspiracy to murder agents, saying they had a "wanton disregard" for human life. Then, he said, they tried to take credit for arranging a cease-fire.

Most of the defense lawyers who argued yesterday placed the blame for the deadly raid and fire on the government. The defendants, they argued, acted out of self-defense, not a conspiracy to kill federal agents.

The government's "hands are not clean in this case," said lawyer Joe Turner, who represents Ruth Riddle. "Their hands are not clean on Feb. 28, and their hands are not clean on the fire."

Monday will mark the first anniversary of the raid, in which four ATF agents and six cultists were killed. The action proved the bloodiest police raid in U.S. history. It led to a standoff between authorities and cultists that ended 51 days later in a fire that destroyed the cult compound, killing Mr. Koresh and 78 followers.

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