Advisory jury rules government not at fault in Branch Davidian raid

 July 14, 2000
 Web posted at: 4:26 p.m. EDT (2026 GMT)

 WACO, Texas (CNN) -- A five-member advisory jury on Friday found the federal
 government was not to blame in the deaths of some 80 Branch Davidians in the
 1993 siege of the religious sect's compound outside Waco.

 The verdict came in a $675 million wrongful death lawsuit filed by the
 surviving sect members and family members of those who died.

 The plaintiffs alleged that the government was liable for the deaths because
 it used excessive force during a February 1993 raid on the compound, which
 precipitated a 51-day standoff between the FBI and Branch Davidians. The
 stanodoff came to a fiery end in April 1993.

 The government argued throughout the trial that it was suicidal Branch
 Davidians, led by their leader David Koresh, who set fire to the compound to
 avoid surrendering to the government's authority.

 The jury recommended a verdict. It is up to U.S. District Judge Walter Smith
 to make the final decision.

 Government attorneys introduced as evidence five burned weapons recovered at
 the Branch Davidian compound called Mount Carmel, outside Waco.

 About 300 machine guns, assault rifles and other high-powered firearms were
 recovered at the site in 1993.

 The lawsuit went to trial June 19, more than seven years after the seige

 About 80 Branch Davidians died from either fire or gunshots on the final day
 of the standoff, including Koresh and 17 children.

 Six members of the apocalyptic Christian sect and four agents also were
 killed on February 28, 1993, during the raid that prompted the standoff.

 The plaintiffs contended that the government helped set three fires that
 engulfed the compound at the end of the siege. The government maintained
 that the Branch Davidians started the fires.

 The plaintiffs also said the agents fired indiscriminately into the building
 during the February raid. The government said the agents were ambushed by
 heavily armed sect members and were defending themselves.

 The case once again shines the spotlight on the government's actions during
 the raid and standoff that made headlines around the world and led to
 congressional inquiries. Though the inquiries cleared the government of
 wrongdoing, the Waco issue raised concerns about whether the government goes
 too far to quell dissenting voices.

 Smith, in a fairly unusual move, empaneled a five-member jury to help him
 during the trial. Smith could take until August to make his final decision.

 The background in brief
 On February 28, 1993, agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
 Firearms went to Mount Carmel to investigate reports that the sect was
 hoarding weapons. They encountered stiff gunfire. Four agents and six
 Davidians were killed. The standoff began, with the FBI taking over.

 A number of other aspects of the case are also in dispute. For instance, the
 families allege that the government at times initiated the shooting
 exchanges, pointing to flashes on a surveillance tape as proof of gunfire
 from the agents. The government argues those flashes were caused by sunlight
 glinting off debris in the compound.

 The five-member jury was 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?

 The jury found that the agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
 Firearms were not to blame for sparking the standoff with a February 28,
 1993, raid on the Branch Davidian compound and that FBI agents were not
 guilty of starting or contributing the fatal fire on April 19, 1993.

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