Eleven Branch Davidian cult members will go on trial Jan. 10 for the deaths of four federal agents at Mount Carmel, U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. ruled Thursday.
What is not set, however, is where the trial will be held.
Some defense attorneys said they want to go to Austin. Smith, however, hinted that he is leaning toward moving the trial to San Antonio.
Defense attorney Dan Cogdell, who represents cultist Clive Doyle, wants it anywhere but Waco.
So do local residents, he said.
“I think the citizens of Waco are really tired of hearing about the issues and tired of the identity and tired of the whole prospect,” he said.
Smith said the trial will be moved to where room will be available for a lengthy, complicated case. Prosecutors said it will take them about six weeks to present their case.
There are four federal courtrooms in San Antonio and two in Austin.
Smith said he is still considering whether and where to move the trial, but said an Austin judge was concerned about holding the trial there.
“He was appalled that someone would use his courtroom for an extended period of time,” Smith said.
Cogdell said he thinks an impartial jury could be picked in Waco, but the “inordinately long time” it would take to select a jury makes it cost prohibitive.
Defense attorneys and government prosecutors argued before Smith a variety of motions during a pretrial hearing Thursday. Before the hearing, the trial had been set to start Nov. 8.
The 11 Branch Davidians are charged with murder and conspiracy to murder four agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who were trying to serve search and arrest warrants at Mount Carmel, 10 miles east of Waco, on Feb. 28.
Some of the cult members also face a variety of lesser weapons charges.
In the gun battle, 16 ATF agents were wounded and at least five cult members were killed.
In addition to Doyle, the Branch Davidians set to go on trial are Norman W. Allison, Renos Avraam, Brad E. Branch, Jaime Castillo, Graeme L. Craddock, Livingston Fagan, Paul G. Fatta, Woodrow Kendrick, Ruth Riddle and Kevin A. Whitecliff.
A 12th cult member, Kathryn Schroeder, who had been charged with murder, pleaded guilty last month to a lesser charge of forcibly resisting arrest.
In testimony Thursday, ATF agent Roland Ballesteros testified that the 100 or so agents readying themselves for the raid at the Bellmead Civic Center learned before they left that cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, and his followers knew they would be coming.
He said Chuck Sarabyn, second-in-command of the Houston ATF office, said, “They know we are coming. Hurry up, let’s go.”
Sarabyn and other top ATF leaders were suspended Thursday for their roles in the botched raid and their efforts at deception afterward.
He told Fort Worth attorney Jeff Kearney, who represents cult member Jaime Castillo, that there was no discussions to abort or alter the raid, which the ATF called “Operation Trojan Horse,” before the agents loaded into two cattle trailers and drove to Mount Carmel.
“The plan was the plan and we tried to execute it,” Ballesteros said.
Hail of bullets
Ballesteros said he was the third agent to exit the trailer and was assigned to get to the front door and announce who they were and their intent.
He said as he neared the gate in front of the door, Davidians began firing at the agents.
“Once you were two to three feet from the trailers, there was lead coming from all directions,” he said.
About 15 feet from the door, he said he saw Howell open the door. He saw no weapons, he said, and yelled, “Police. Search warrants. Lay down.”
He said Howell asked, “What’s going on?”
Ballesteros repeated his instructions, and Howell closed the door.
Ballesteros said he was then met by about 20 to 30 bullets sailing through the front door and he was later hit in the hand as he tried to turn the doorknob to enter, he said.
After he was hit, he rolled off the porch and into an area where dogs were kept, he said.