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Siege chronology reveals frustrations, disagreements

By Lee Hancock / The Dallas Morning News

A Justice Department chronology of the Branch Davidian standoff is a litany of maddening efforts to negotiate with a rambling, threatening David Koresh.

It also shows that as FBI negotiations stalled with the sect leader, agents feuded with each other and with Texas Rangers about the handling of the siege near Waco.

The report, part of the Justice Department's review of the operation, concludes that Mr. Koresh reneged on promises to come out and never engaged in meaningful negotiations.

It notes that all of the 35 adults and children released from the compound before it burned April 19 were "expelled" as weaklings or troublemakers.

Among the other findings and new details:

Mr. Koresh repeatedly threatened violence during negotiations. He warned that he could blow up tanks when FBI agents moved armored vehicles around the compound. And he once told negotiators to stop or "bear responsibility for the loss of innocent lives" and face having to "look at some of the pictures of the little ones that ended up perishing."

He told negotiators the sect had been preparing to battle authorities since 1985.

Cult lieutenant Steve Schneider told negotiators that he believed the FBI ultimately would burn the building and kill everyone inside.

In early April, Assistant U.S. Attorney LeRoy Jahn, one of the lead prosecutors handling prosecutions of the sect, had urged FBI agents to place firefighting equipment near the compound because she feared the risk of fire. FBI officials decided, however, that the armed cultists posed an unacceptable risk to firefighters.

After learning April 16 that Attorney General Janet Reno initially opposed the use of gas, Justice Department spokesman Carl Stern told another official "that going ahead with the plan might be looked down on in the eyes of the public, and likened (the plan) to Saddam Hussein's gassing of the Kurds."

When FBI agents pulled the last cars away from the compound the eve of the teargas assault, an FBI sniper saw a cardboard sign in a compound window decorated with flames and bearing the words:

"flames await."

After the fires began, FBI agents began hearing "systematic gunfire" inside the compound and concluded that sect members were killing each other. Autopsies later determined that 17 Davidians, including several children, died of gunshots and a 3-year-old child was stabbed to death. Several children also died of blows to the head.

As the siege ground on, negotiators feuded with tactical experts about FBI commanders' decisions to use psychological and physical pressures, such as cutting the power to the compound and blaring lights and loud music.

FBI tacticians also objected to FBI commander Jeff Jamar's decision in late March to allow two Houston lawyers to enter the compound to talk with Mr. Koresh and his lieutenant, Mr. Schneider.

Texas Rangers investigating the deaths of four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents killed in the Feb. 28 raid on the compound also opposed allowing the lawyers in.

By then, the chronology notes, the Rangers were barely speaking to the FBI.

Texas Ranger Capt. David Byrnes told Justice Department investigators that from the beginning of the siege, the Rangers relations with the FBI command post "deteriorated rapidly."

"Numerous Rangers complained to him that (special agent) Jamar and others in the command post treated them rudely. The Rangers eventually pulled out of what they considered a hostile atmosphere," according to the chronology.

In one instance, Capt. Byrnes told investigators, Mr. Jamar refused the Rangers request to complete a crime scene examination near the compound where one Branch Davidian's body had been found.

Mr. Jamar wouldn't allow them to return to the scene for 10 days, by which time key evidence had deteriorated, the report said.

Mr. Jamar, through a spokesman, declined to comment Friday. He told review investigators that he recognized Rangers' and negotiators' concerns but gave more weight to protecting his agents and ending the siege.

Federal prosecutors also were feuding. On March 23, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston in Waco wrote Ms. Reno, complaining that the FBI had mishandled the crime scene and that his superior, U.S. Attorney Ron Ederer, appeared not to care.

Mr. Ederer, now in private practice, could not be reached for comment. He earlier told the Justice Department that he had no problems with the FBI and that friction within the agency "had absolutely no effect" on the standoff's end.

In early April, Justice Department officials brought in Washington-based prosecutors Ray and LeRoy Jahn, to head the criminal inquiry and soothe the disputes.

      © 1996 The Dallas Morning News
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