Bonds were reduced Thursday for six of eight men charged with attempted murder in a Nov. 3 shootout with George Roden, who claims to be president and trustee of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.
Two of the suspects, Vernon Wayne Howell, who is recognized as president of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists Association, a splinter group which fled Waco in 1985 and established operations in Palestine, and Paul Gordon Fatta, a member of the group, bonded out of McLennan County Jail last week.
Before reducing the bonds, McLennan County Justice of the Peace Alan Mayfield said the case is "very unusual in many, many aspects," adding that it is a "a dilemma to deal with."
Mayfield, who set bonds on the eight men at 450,000 each, reduced to $20,000 the bond of David Michael Jones, a U.S. Postal Service employee who lives in Waco, and is the son of Perry Jones, executive secretary of the Brand Davidians living in Palestine.
Mayfield reduced to $30,000 the bonds of Floyd Leon Houtman, 56; Peter James Hipsmann, 22; Gregory Allen Summers, 22: James Loye Riddle, 27; and Stanley Carl Sylvia, 49, all of whom told Mayfield they live in Palestine as members of the Branch Davidian Association.
All six remained jailed late Thursday night.
The men were arrested last week after McLennan County sheriff's deputies broke up a shootout between Roden and the men on a 77-acre tract near Elk.
Perry Jones, who was accompanied to the hearing by 43 Branch Davidians from Palestine, said the men were attempting to take photographs of a dead follower, whose body reportedly was lying in a casket in the church on the ranch, now called Rodenville.
Jones said the men wanted to take pictures so authorities would have evidence to take legal action against Roden, who Jones says is living on the property in violation of a restraining order issued by 19th State District Judge Bill Logue in 1980.
Jones said the men were heavily armed and dressed in fatigues because Roden had threatened them before and run members of the splinter group off the land at gunpoint in 1985.
Members of the splinter group also have accused Roden of trying to resurrect the body.
"There is a time for those kinds of things," Jones said Thursday. "In Daniel 12, God told Daniel that the righteous would be resurrected. But God did not mean in a situation like Rodenville, which we prefer to call the Mount Carmel Center."
Roden, who was wounded in the hand during the altercation, has denied the charge and said the body was in the church because he was moving the community's graveyard when his bulldozer broke.
Roden, a former presidential candidate, had asked federal officials to increase the men's bonds to $1 million each because he claimed "as soon as they get out, they're coming back out here looking for me."
During the bond reduction hearing, the men's attorney, Gary Coker of Waco, told Mayfield that none of the men has been in trouble with the law before and called the $50,000 bond "ridiculously high."
Assistant District Attorney El Hadi T. Shabazz said the bond was reasonable because of the severity of the crime and because of the instability of the men's lifestyles.
Mayfield set a Dec. 3 examining hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to present the cases to a grand jury.
In the meantime, Howell said he will attempt to sell cassette tapes of a song he wrote about the incident to raise money to get the group out of jail. In the song called "Mad Man in Waco," Howell sings that the men risked their lives for the Lord in an attempt to win back the land for the old women and children in their group. The song says they didn't mean to harm anyone.
"The music is our only avenue," Howell said, adding that even at the reduced bonds, the men, most of whom are unemployed, probably will remain in jail.
"We're not rich like the Southern Baptist Convention," Jones said. "We're not even as well off as a small Baptist church. We are just poor people who help each other."