How Branch Davidian Perry Jones died will be left open for the moment, Justice of the Peace James Collier of Mart said Thursday.
An autopsy on Jones, the father-in-law of cult leader Vernon Howell, showed that he died from a bullet fired from a gun inserted into his mouth. But fellow Branch Davidians disputed the finding, claiming that Jones was shot in the stomach during the Feb. 28 raid on Mount Carmel.
“I’m not satisfied as to how to rule it,” Collier said. “There are some questions that need to be answered before I make up my mind. His wife, Mary Jones, says he was shot in the stomach. I talked to the medical examiners about it. They went back and re-examined the body. They have not been able to find any gunshot wounds of the abdominal area. There’s no need to get in a rush when there’s a chance it can be proved one way or the other.”
Branch Davidian Rita Riddle told the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday that she was upstairs at the Mount Carmel compound when Jones was shot. She said she could hear him screaming.
Riddle declined further comment.
Collier said that he was troubled by the mystery surrounding Jones’ death.
“The gun was definitely in his mouth and the trigger was pulled,” Collier said.
“But why? I’m at a loss. I know if someone is gut-shot, they’re in terrible pain. I could see him or someone at the compound putting him out of his misery. But this, I don’t know. And until I do know more about it, I’m going to leave it on hold until I come up with an answer.”
Collier ruled that cult members Winston Blake, Peter Gent, Peter Hipsman and Jaydean Wendel died by non-criminal homicide — meaning they were shot and killed during the shootout with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents.
Blake and Hipsman, however, were shot at extremely close range.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office said its autopsy showed that Blake died from a gunshot wound behind his right ear, while Hipsman was shot numerous times. But two wounds were contact wounds. A medical examiner said a gun was placed at the back and side of Hipsman’s head and fired.
ATF spokesman Jack Killorin, in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., acknowledged that agents entering Mount Carmel during the raid — who were trying to arrest Howell for possession of automatic weapons — fought in close quarters.
Killorin, though, characterized as “not likely” the theory that ATF agents killed any cult members execution-style.
Asked about Hipsman’s contact wounds, Collier flatly said, “ATF did not do it.”
“They were in there a very short time, and being shot at as they were, they wouldn’t have the time to walk up and put a gun to a man’s head, who had already been shot. Collier said. “No, someone in the compound shot him.”
Collier made his rulings without benefit of the results from the ballistics testing done on the bullets obtained from the dead cult members.
The tests are expected to be completed shortly.
But Collier said Thursday that the test results will not go to him but to the U.S. attorney’s office in Waco.