- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2000

WACO, Texas A University of Maryland arson expert yesterday told jurors in the Branch Davidian wrongful-death trial that the fires that engulfed the sect's compound on April 19, 1993, were intentionally set.

James Quintere said the fires could not have been started accidentally by FBI-driven tanks that knocked holes in the walls while inserting tear gas to end a 51-day standoff between sect members and the government.

He said the fires were set in three distinct spots within the Davidian headquarters and appeared to have been enhanced by accelerants poured by the victims.

Earlier, two FBI agents testified that although three metal canisters of tear gas were fired in the direction of the compound that morning, all three were launched at an underground bunker at the complex. They struck the roof of the bunker and ricocheted into a nearby field where they burned out harmlessly, he said.

For the second straight day, government lawyers introduced tapes of Branch Davidians' comments in the final minutes of the debacle, picked up by FBI hidden recorders.

One of the main contentions of the Davidians in their $675 million civil suit is that the government caused the fires that killed sect leader David Koresh and 80 of his followers either by accidentally knocking over lanterns as the tanks barreled through the rickety walls or by shooting in incendiary devices that triggered the blazes.

The plaintiffs fought hard to keep the tapes out of the trial, claiming that since most of the comments could not definitely be attributed to a known individual, the remarks were unfair to those who took no active part or did not comment about setting fires.

FBI agent David Corderman one of the several tank drivers said he had been extra careful that morning to make sure the three military rounds he fired did not go inside the main building.

"I was concerned," he said, "to make sure military rounds did not, in any way, go near the above-ground structure."

The defense filed a motion Tuesday afternoon offering to present testimony that proved the Davidians resisted arrest during the original raid and had not been hindered from escaping the compound at several junctures during the siege.

Mike Caddell, the plaintiffs' lead attorney, said the Branch Davidians had been too intimidated by the government's bold tank assault and the noise-making equipment to come out to safety. He compared the tear-gas assault, intended to force members of the sect outside, as similar to a tube of toothpaste: "Squeeze it and you get people coming out the end. But people don't act that way."

The tapes jurors heard yesterday had the Branch Davidians those speaking at least sounding anything but scared.

"You always wanted to be a charcoal briquette," laughed one man. "You … your philosophy. That's your philosophy," said another. Then a third voice: "It's God's will. The Assyrian is out there. They can't destroy us unless it's God's will that they do." Then: "Have you read Isaiah 13, where it says he's going to take us up like flames of fire?"

Government lawyers said late yesterday they would probably close their presentation by midday today.

In a rather rare situation according to several Texas lawyers, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith is not bound by the jury's verdict in that he informed them ahead of time that they would be serving only in an "advisory" capacity.

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