AP, Sep. 9, 2003
by ADAM NOSSITER, Associated Press Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP)–It was a brutal and ultimately deadly confrontation that transfixed the nation for weeks in the spring of 1993: government agents facing off against a fanatic cult leader and his followers in Waco, Texas.
Nearly 10 years after the fire that ended the standoff and killed Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and scores of his disciples, survivors and their families are still pushing claims against the federal government.
On Monday, they’re scheduled to make a last-ditch effort before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here, seeking to have the judge removed from their wrongful-death lawsuit and asking for a new trial.
In September 2000 in Waco, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith dismissed the lawsuit, backing the federal contention that agents had not used excessive force in their tear-gas assault on the cult compound. Smith found that the Davidians themselves set the fire that killed nearly 80 men, women and children.
Monday’s appeal arguments are being made on behalf of the estates of 14 children who died in the fire, a 15-year-old girl who was badly burned and three parents whose children died in the blaze.
The Davidians, whose beliefs encompass fierce hostility against the government, say Smith’s rulings in related cases, and comments on and off the bench, betray “deep-seated antagonism” and “preconceptions” against them. They say he expressed “negative characterizations” of them, including calling one Branch Davidian follower “crazy” and a murderer.
Government lawyers dismiss the bias claims.
“To the contrary, Judge Smith displayed patience and diligence wading through enormously complicated legal and factual claims and gradually winnowing down the issues for trial,” they say in their brief.
A lawyer for the Davidians, James Juranek, acknowledged that the odds are against him in court. Appeals such as his are “granted less often than they are denied,” he said.
On Feb. 28, 1993, federal agents stormed the Branch Davidian compound looking for stockpiled automatic weapons and hand grenades. Four federal agents and three Davidians were killed in the clash.
For 51 days, the government attempted to get the cult followers to come out. On April 19, agents fired tear-gas rounds into the compound and fire consumed it.