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Closing arguments under way in Branch Davidian trial

FBI agents after the fire
FBI agents survey the damage after the fire at the Branch Davidian compound in April 1993  

July 14, 2000
Web posted at: 12:40 p.m. EDT (1640 GMT)

WACO, Texas (CNN) -- A former U.S. Attorney General arguing on behalf of survivors of the 1993 Mt. Carmel siege Friday called it the "greatest domestic law enforcement tragedy" in U.S. history.

"It didn't have to happen," said Ramsey Clark, as plaintiffs wrapped up their closing arguments in the $675 million Branch Davidian wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government.

The plaintiffs accuse federal agents of using excessive force during the initial raid on the Branch Davidians and negligence in the way the siege was brought to a fiery end.

Michael Caddell, the lead attorney for the Davidians, admitted that the sect had "strange religious beliefs" and "different sexual practices." Caddell then tried to focus the five member advisory jury's attention on the children who were killed when the compound burned to the ground. "This case is about the children," he said.

VideoCNN's Tony Clark has highlights of the testimony
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Two views of Waco from a former FBI investigator and a Branch Davidian survivor
What were your thoughts while watching the government raid the Branch Davidian compound in 1993?

Waco investigation
Waco Revisited
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Caddell reminded the jury that U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno was told to "butt out" and leave the conduct of the siege to the on-site commanders.

He said the commanders were frustrated because they couldn't get the Davidians to surrender and began knocking down the compound.

Earlier, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith lashed out at Caddell before closing arguments began in the case.

"You are the one who seems to have no understanding of the process," U.S. District Judge Walter Smith told Caddell.

Thursday, Caddell accused Judge Smith of trying to "engineer a verdict in favor of the government" by the way he wrote jury instructions in the civil lawsuit.

The jury instructions treat the Davidians as one group. Caddell had wanted the women and children considered as separate groups.

Judge Smith told the hushed courtroom, "I have not in any way tried to engineer the jury instruction." Smith said he tried to simplify the issues for the jury.

The judge pointed out that the five-member panel's role is only to recommend a verdict to him and that regardless of the jury charge, he will make the ultimate decision. His ruling is not expected until sometime next month.

A 51-day standoff between sect members and federal agents began on February 28, 1993, when gunfire erupted after agents tried to arrest Branch Davidian leader David Koresh on weapons charges. Six Davidians and four agents were killed in the shootout.

At least 80 sect members died on April 19, 1993 when the Mt. Carmel compound burned to the ground, Survivors and family members of victims say agents were responsible for the fiery end to the standoff, and that they shot at Davidians during the raid.

"The kids didn't do anything bad, and yet the decisions that were made by the FBI, particularly on April 19, to tear that building down...resulted in the death of those kids," Caddell said.

Agents have said they were out-gunned by Davidian members.

"This is a terrible thing to have happened, but the responsibility for that is very clearly on David Koresh and on the Branch Davidians," said U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford on Thursday.

The advisory panel of jurors is expected to get the case next week before making their recomendation to the judge.

The five-member jury will be asked to answer four questions:

1. Did Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents use excessive force?
2. Was the FBI negligent in their handling of the events at Waco?
3. Were the Davidians themselves negligent?
4. If both were negligent, what percentage of responsibility for the tragedy should each side bear?

Eight Davidian members were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges in a 1994 criminal trial on the seige. Eleven other sect members were aquitted of conspiring to kill federal agents.

Closing arguments expected Friday in Branch Davidian trial
July 13, 2000
Witness: Branch Davidian fire appears 'coordinated'
July 12, 2000
Government lawyers say tapes show Davidians set fire
July 10, 2000
Fuel cans found at Davidian compound, Texas Ranger testifies
July 7, 2000
300 weapons recovered from Branch Davidian compound, Ranger testifies
July 6, 2000
911 tape played in court on third day of Waco trial
June 21, 2000
Attorneys deliver opening statements in Waco trial
June 20, 2000
Jury seated for Branch Davidian wrongful-death lawsuit
June 19, 2000
Reno questioned by Danforth for six hours; Davidians lawyer attacks Vector report
May 11, 2000

Federal Bureau of Investigation
United States Attorney's Office, Central District of California
Branch Davidian
Federal Tort Claims Act -- Defined & Explained

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