McLennan County Justice of the Peace John Cabaniss said Friday that he will release final causes of death next week in the cases of the five Branch Davidians assigned to him.

Three other local justices of the peace say they will probably wait until the end of the year to hold inquests on the more than 80 remaining Branch Davidians, who died either during the Feb. 28 raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms or the April 19 fire that leveled their two-story compound 10 miles east of Waco.

“I don’t feel the same as they do,” Cabaniss said. “I feel it’s time to end this. I figure I have all the information I need. In my opinion, I think an autopsy is all that’s needed. I’m just ruling on the probable causes of death.”

Justices of the peace David Pareya of West, Cindy Evans of Waco and James Collier of Mart may not hold their inquests until after the criminal trials of 11 surviving Branch Davidians, scheduled for January in San Antonio.

Pareya said the delay is needed to pinpoint how the Branch Davidians died.

“The manner of death is what’s hard,” Pareya said. “How did the death occur? Was it suicide? Was it homicide? Was it accidental? That’s the hard part.”

Pareya said the justices will probably sit En banc, meaning the will hold their inquests as a group. It is a move intended to enable the expert witnesses in the case to testify at one time. The justices of the peace are expected to call representatives of the BATF, FBI and Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office.

Collier has said he may subpoena audio tapes that FBI officials such as Special Agent Bob Ricks of Tulsa claim prove that the Branch Davidians deliberately set the fire that engulfed them.

“We’re looking over the cases to determine which ones merit further testimony from the agencies involved,” Pareya said.

Autopsies are complete on the Branch Davidians, those identified and unidentified, Pareya said. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office completed the autopsies a couple of weeks ago.

A refrigerated building built next to the medical examiner’s office still houses most of the bodies.

Cabaniss said he will release the bodies under his jurisdiction for burial after he formally declares the cause of death.

Pareya said there’s not feud between the justices of the peace over how to handle the inquests. There’s just a difference of opinion.

“You have to understand,” Pareya said. “There are hard cases and there are easy cases. But, as a judge, I’d really hate to have to reopen a case because additional information came out at a subsequent time.”

Cabaniss, however, said he has seen enough and will close out his cases — which includes that of Steve Schneider, a Wisconsin man who acted as Vernon Howell’s top lieutenant during the raid although he had lost his wife, Judy, to the cult leader.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.