- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2000

WACO, Texas A preliminary review of infrared videotapes made during the final hours of the Branch Davidian siege found no firearm muzzle flashes from either federal agents or sect members, a judge said yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr., who will hear a wrongful-death lawsuit here in mid-June, made the disclosure to lawyers at a pretrial hearing about whether to sanction the government for refusing to comply with standard evidentiary procedures.
Michael Caddell, lead attorney for the Branch Davidian plaintiffs, said the absence of proof of such gunfire an important tenet of the case against the government would not torpedo the action.
"You get good news; you get bad news," he said.
Federal officials, however, claimed vindication.
"Word from the court that independent analysis confirmed that the flashes are not gunfire is welcome news," said FBI spokesman John Collingwood, adding that "years of being accused of shooting at the compound" had heavily burdened those at the site.
"Hopefully, this is the beginning of lifting that burden, knowing that there is independent corroboration of what they have always said."
After the roaring inferno swept through the Davidian headquarters 10 miles northeast of Waco on April 19, 1993, some 86 Davidians, including 24 children, were dead. The fire began after an FBI tear-gas attack ended a 51-day siege growing out of a shootout that took the lives of four government agents and several Davidians.
The Davidians say that the government, by firing numerous rounds of automatic gunfire at the structure as the flames increased that morning, had cut off whatever chance the victims would have had to flee to safety outside.
They also claim the FBI made no effort to fight the fire and didn't even have a contingency plan to try to extinguish a fire if one occurred during the tear-gas insertion.
Judge Smith told attorneys for the government and the plaintiffs that experts from Vector Data Research, a British firm, had discovered no muzzle blasts on the infrared videos, specially made several weeks ago in a partial re-enactment of conditions on the fatal day.
Review of the video, the judge said, detected about 57 "thermal events," flashes thought to have resulted from light, signifying heat.
"No muzzle blasts either from Branch Davidians or government agents," snapped the judge.
Later yesterday, Judge Smith denied the government's bid to toss out most of the plaintiffs' case.
The government sought summary judgment on three of the five major claims in the case over the absence of armored firefighting gear, the nonuse of firefighters and the use of tanks.
Also yesterday, an attorney for four Branch Davidians argued before the Supreme Court that their 30-year prison sentences should be struck down because a judge improperly applied a firearms law to enhance the penalty.
Stephen Halbrook of Fairfax, Va., argued that the sentences were inappropriate because no jury ever determined the type of weapon carried by the defendants.
Jerry Seper contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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