U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. said Wednesday that he will decide before the end of the week whether to let Branch Davidian Oliver Gyarfas Jr. out of jail.
Gyarfas is being held as a material witness to the Feb. 28 shootout between the Branch Davidians and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Attorney Kirk Lyons of Houston argued that Gyarfas was not a flight risk since his parents had traveled from Australia to be with him. He also questioned Phil Reyna, a pretrial services employee, who testified that he did not think the Branch Davidians were likely to flee if released from custody.
“It’s been my experience dealing with the individuals that have been released as material witnesses that it’s been almost next to impossible to get them to leave Waco,” Reyna said. “Several have left, but they had to be asked to leave Waco. Unless this individual is different, I don’t consider him to be a flight risk.”
The federal government countered with testimony from an Immigration and Naturalization Service agent.
“Oliver Gyarfas has stayed longer than he is allowed to,” the Austin agent said. “He is, in essence, an illegal alien. I would consider him a flight risk.”
The agent said that INS has put a hold on Gyarfas. If the native Australian is released from custody, the agency may institute deportation proceedings against him, the agent said.
Under questioning, however, the agent told Lyons that the INS intended to “cooperate as much as we possibly could” with court officials.
Gyarfas was among 14 Branch Davidians who left Mount Carmel before the April 19 fire that destroyed it. His sister, Aisha, 17, who was pregnant, and her 1-year-old daughter, Startle, apparently died in the fire.
The government Wednesday also noted that Gyarfas had refused to testify before a recent federal grand jury, invoking the Fifth Amendment. But Lyons told Judge Smith that Gyarfas was considering giving depositions in the pending criminal cases against other Branch Davidians.
“Our point is that you get more flies with honey than with vinegar,” Lyons said afterwards. “Right now, he’s stuck in a bottle of vinegar. What incentive does he have to testify when he’s stuck in jail?”
Lyons said that a Waco hotel owner would be willing to post a bond guaranteeing Gyarfas’ appearance at any court proceedings.
Mark Domangue, general manager of the Brittney Hotel in Waco, said he made his decision based on his dealings with Oliver and Elizabeth Gyarfas, the parents of Oliver Gyarfas Jr.
“They’re good people,” he said. “It wasn’t something that I was willing to do on the day I met them. But I’ve gotten to know them. I don’t think their son is a flight risk. I think all the Branch Davidians want to be here. They feel it’s their only way to get their truth out.”
In other developments:
- The family of a cult member who died in the fiery end to the Branch Davidian standoff is attempting to raise money to bring his body to Israel for a Jewish burial.
Pablo Cohen, 28, a Jerusalem musician, was burned to death in the April 19 fire that consumed the cult’s compound in Waco.
Cohen’s family said they do not have the $15,000 needed to bring his remains to Jerusalem, according to an article Wednesday in the Jerusalem Post.
A benefit concert held on behalf of the Cohen family Sunday night at a rock club raised about $2,900.