A department store security officer testified Monday that his surveillance video cameras captured Branch Davidian Rita Fay Riddle shoplifting four pairs of jeans in December, two months before the failed raid at Mount Carmel.
Riddle, 35, who left the compound about a month into the 51-day siege by federal agents, is on trial in McLennan County Court-at-Law No. 2 on Class B misdemeanor theft charges.
Sears part-time security guard Brian Kevil, a full-time McLennan County Sheriff’s deputy, said Riddle told him after he detained her Dec. 22 that she had brought the jeans into the store with her and was only trying to get refunds or exchanges for them.
Videotapes from Sears, played for the six-person jury Monday, showed Riddle holding one pair of jeans from a shelf and walked to another area of the men’s department. She pulled a Sears sack from her purse, got two more pairs of jeans sand stuffed all four pairs into the sack.
Kevil said he noticed her put the jeans in a sack on his monitor in the security office. So he zeroed in on her with a camera in another part of the store than can turn 360 degrees.
When she left the men’s department, the videotape shows, Riddle browsed briefly in another department and then headed toward the Richland Mall entrance at Sears. She turned just before she left the store and returned to a cashier’s stand, where she asked for a refund for a pair of black jeans.
The cashier, Chris Martin, testified that Kevil called him on the phone during the transaction and approved the refund for Riddle. After Riddle collected the $37.88, she placed the other jeans in the sack and headed for the door. Kevil testified he stopped her inside the mall and asked her to return with him to the store, which she did.
Kevil said Riddle wondered why he had stopped her but cooperated and gave him back the money and jeans.
Under cross-examination from Riddle’s attorney, Charles Grigson of Austin, Kevil explained that the store had 20 security monitors but only three videocassette recorders. Two of the recorders, he said, can tape whatever a guard directs them to. The third is a fixed camera and recorder in the men’s jeans area because it is a popular area for shoplifters, he said.
Grigson asked Kevil if it was possible that Riddle, because there was no tape of her entering the store, came into the jeans area unnoticed and put the jeans she had carried into the store back on the racks without being taped. Kevil said it was not possible.
Riddle, who has not been charged with federal crimes, is still considered a material witness to the raid on Mount Carmel but she has refused to testify before a federal grand jury, Grigson said.
Before the trial, Grigson asked potential jurors about their feelings toward the cult. At least eight said they thought Branch Davidian cult members would be more inclined to commit a crime than an average citizen because they could be manipulated by cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh.
Judge Mike Gassaway ordered 40 prospective jurors instead of the usual 17 because of Riddle’s cult association.
“This is Waco. This is where everything occurred, and the people who live here, it seems to me, have been associated with a terrible event, regardless of who you believe is at fault,” Grigson said. “That is something that has been thrown out by the media and kind of made the city of Waco unfairly guilty by association. So I feel that some of the people here were maybe thinking about that today. We needed to find out how they felt.”
The shoplifting trial should end today. If convicted, Riddle faces a maximum six months in jail and a $1,500 fine.