Persecution of the Branch Davidians Continues to be 'No News'
By Vin Suprynowicz
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
One thing you can pretty much count on: When a major turning point in history occurs, the mainstream press will miss it.
At the end of 1929, when the staff of The New York Times named the most important story of the year, they chose Admiral Byrd's trip to the South Pole. The Great Depression had begun with the stock market crash two months before, but the staff of the country's most esteemed newspaper didn't believe it.
History may trace many of the developments of the next decade from the incredible miscalculation of sending 100 machinegun-toting federal troops backed by armed helicopters to assault and eventually incinerate 75 innocent men, women and children in a church in Waco, Texas in April of 1993, over the suspected failure of the minister of their church to pay a $200 firearms tax.
Instead of punishing the assailants, and in spite of evidence that most federal casualties resulted from "friendly fire," the government chose to charge the survivors with "murdering" their government attackers. A jury found the Branch Davidian survivors innocent of almost all charges, but a federal judge imposed maximum sentences anyway, declaring at sentencing that the defendants were guilty of a conspiracy to murder federal agents, despite the fact the jury had just specifically found all defendants innocent of that charge.
The 1994 kangaroo trial of the Davidians received some news coverage, but rarely led the evening newscasts. Waco only resurfaced in the public consciousness when someone decided to blow up the ATF headquarters from which the raid was planned and carried out, in Oklahoma City, on April 19, 1995.
On Jan. 4, 1996, six attorneys for six Davidian survivors presented 90 minutes of oral argument before a panel of three judges of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, explaining why they believe the Davidian verdicts and sentences should be substantially reduced or set aside.
The imprisoned Davidians -- who are moved frequently to prevent local support groups from springing up where they are held -- were not allowed to be present for their appeals. Presumably, this reduced the "news value" of the event. And admittedly the continuing furlough of federal workers, the apparent cover-up of First Lady Hillary Clinton's role in the firing of the White House travel office staff, and accounts of the creation of the first anti-matter particles by a team of German scientists working in Switzerland, were worthy of some coverage.
But the national press, so far as I can determine, reported not one word about the appeals arguments in the largest civilian massacre by U.S. forces on U.S. soil since the days of Grant, Sherman, and the Great Tyrant.
Carol Moore, member of the Committee for Waco Justice and author of "The Davidian Massacre," reports from New Orleans: "Overall, things seemed to go well for the Davidians -- their attorneys' arguments were solid, (and) the judges ... asked a lot of hard questions of the government's attorney, who seemed ill-prepared. ...
"One unexpected and important development was that the judges seemed particularly interested in, and asked many questions about ... evidence excluded by the trial judge."
For instance, Judge Walter J. Smith at the original trial allowed defendant Jamie Castillo's statement to a Texas ranger that he had a gun, but not his statement that he did not shoot it.
The trial judge also excluded evidence that the BATF shot first, forcing the Davidians to fire in self-defense, including Castillo's statement that he heard David Koresh go to the door and tell ATF agents "Let's talk," and then saw and heard the agents shoot Koresh without provocation.
Judge Smith also disallowed BATF Agent Ballasteros' original statement that the agents shot first at the Davidians' dogs -- a statement that he later changed -- and Marjorie Thomas' statement during the trial that there was firing from the helicopters overhead.
An elderly survivor I have interviewed confirmed seeing the orange flashes of the helicopters' guns firing, and Davidian attorneys who were allowed in the building before it was torched and bulldozed report seeing the obvious downward entry holes of bullets in the second floor ceiling.
On appeal, the defendants' attorneys argued Judge Smith erred in not informing the jury that self-defense could be grounds for finding the defendants innocent of aiding and abetting voluntary manslaughter. "Some jurors hold they would have found them innocent" on those grounds, "had the judge given them that option," Moore reports.
Defense attorneys also argue the guilty verdict on the charge of carrying a weapon in commission of a violent crime -- in this case, conspiracy to murder federal agents -- should be set aside, since the weapons enhancement can only apply if the jury finds the defendants guilty of the main charge, which it did not.
The appeals court is not expected to rule for several months - perhaps on or about the April 19 anniversary of the holocaust at Mount Carmel.
On the discouraging side, barring an outright dismissal for lack of sufficient evidence, a lesser favorable ruling would likely send the cases back to Judge Smith, who, Moore reports, "is known to sit on such reversals as long as legally possible in order to ensure his victims serve the maximum time."
Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Readers may reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas, Nevada 89127.
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