5 Davidians get 40 years in slayings of 4 agents

June 18, 1994|By New York Times News Service

SAN ANTONIO -- Ignoring pleas for leniency from the defendants and the foreman of the jury that convicted them, a federal judge sentenced five Branch Davidians yesterday to 40 years in prison for their roles in a shootout near Waco in February 1993 in which four federal agents and six cult members died.

The shootout began a 51-day standoff that ended when the sect's leader, David Koresh, and 78 of his followers died in a fire after FBI agents assaulted the sect's compound with tear gas and tanks armed with battering rams.

Judge Walter Smith of U.S. District Court handed down sentences ranging from five years to 20 years for three other defendants, and the eight were collectively ordered to pay fines and restitution to the government of more than $1 million.

"The evidence from this trial has not faded from my memory. Certain images are clear," Judge Smith was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. "I remember evidence the jury didn't see, evidence I ruled was too gruesome."

Most of the defendants sat stone-faced during the sentencing proceedings, but there were several sobs from family members in the courtroom. As the defendants were being led away, a female visitor shouted, "Give us liberty or give us death!" but was quickly silenced by federal marshals.

The long sentences provoked angry reactions from defense lawyers.

"The prosecution was successful in getting the judge to completely ignore the jury's wishes," said Mike DeGeurin, the lawyer for Paul Fatta, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined $50,000.

Another defense lawyer, Joe Turner, said of the defendants, "The judge slam-dunked them."

But the chief federal prosecutor, Ray Jahn, said that he was "relieved" by the sentences, adding: "It's clear that the judge did a careful job in crafting his decision. We prosecuted these

people for their actions, not their religious beliefs, and they were fairly and justly sentenced according to their actions."

The gunbattle began Feb. 28, 1993, when nearly 100 agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms stormed the sect's rural compound near Waco to serve search-and-arrest warrants on the cult's leader.

The raid was widely criticized and was the subject of a searing report by the Treasury Department, which oversees the firearms agency. The report, which led to the resignation of Stephen Higgins, the head of the agency, accused bureau officials of mismanaging the raid and subsequent investigations.

The five defendants sentenced to 40 years in prison were Renos Avraam, 29; Brad Branch, 34; Jaime Castillo, 25; Livingstone Fagan, 34; and Kevin Whitecliff, 32, all of whom participated in the gun battle, according to trial testimony. Each was sentenced to 10 years for voluntary manslaughter and 30 years for weapons violations.

The sentences are to run consecutively. The five were also fined amounts ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 and were ordered to pay restitution of $1,131,687.49.

Fatta, 35, was sentenced to five years for conspiracy to manufacture or possess machine guns and 10 years for aiding and abetting Koresh in possessing machine guns. The terms run consecutively.

Fatta was also ordered to pay $50,000 in fines.

Fatta was absent from the compound on the day of the raid, but prosecutors accused him of being the sect's "blood merchant" because he had purchased many of its weapons.

Judge Smith handed down less than the maximum sentences in only two of the cases. Graeme Craddock, who had faced up to 40 years, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for possession of a hand grenade and 10 years on the reinstated weapons charges.

Ruth Riddle, the only female defendant, was sentenced to five years for use of a firearm in the commission of a crime.

Judge Smith said he reduced their sentences because they were the only defendants to show any remorse for their actions. He also said that Ms. Riddle "was as malleable as a soft piece of clay" in the hands of Koresh.

At least two defense lawyers indicated that they planned to appeal the sentences. Prosecutors, meanwhile, said any possible appeals of the lighter sentences would be left to the Justice Department.

In addition, a number of civil suits arising from the raid and the fire are pending.

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