An attorney for a cult member who escaped the April 19 fire at Mount Carmel is questioning the competence of the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office and wants a judge to let an independent pathologist oversee the recovery of the charred bodies.

“If the defendant’s independent forensic pathologists are not given access to oversee the gathering of the remains and the autopsies, the defendant will suffer irreparable harm from which he has no adequate remedy at law,” a motion prepared by Fort Worth attorney Jeff Kearney states.

Kearney represents Jaime Castillo, one of nine Branch Davidians who fled as a fire raged through the compound. He has been charged with conspiracy to murder federal agents and is being held in jail pending a magistrate’s ruling on his detention.

Kearny provided reporters with copies of a motion Monday that he said he had filed with Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace David Pareya. However, there is no file mark on the motion and a spokeswoman in Pareya’s office said the motion had not been filed as of 5 p.m. Monday.

Pareya and Kearney were not available for comment late Monday, and neither was Dr. Nizam Peerwani, chief medical examiner in Tarrant County.

In the motion, Kearney cited specific examples of why Pareya should appoint one or more of several independent pathologists who have volunteered to participate in the recovery and identification of bodies from the compound.

They include:

  • “In the fall of 1991, the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office sent the wrong body to Montague County for burial in a slaying victim’s grave. After the mistake was discovered, the body had to be exhumed and returned to the morgue.”
  • “In the fall of 1991, medical investigators from the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office failed to recover all the remains of the bodies from an automobile accident in Fort Worth. The deceased’s family members, who went to the scene of the accident had to pick up their family member’s body parts, which were left by agents of the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office.
  • “Dr. Angela Springfield, chief toxicologist for the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office, reported erroneous toxicology results that led to a questionable homicide ruling in a high-profile case. The deputy chief medical examiner of Tarrant County relied on the erroneous toxicology results in determining that the manner of death was homicide rather than suicide.”
  • “The Tarrant County medical examiner’s office is defending an allegation of negligence in a $10 million lawsuit filed last month by the parents of Corliss Ancrum. The suit alleges that an assistant pathologist who performed an autopsy on Corliss Ancrum was negligent because he lost the larynx, which prevented a final determination of the manner of death when strangulation was suspected.”
  • In a recent capital murder prosecution in Tarrant County, Dr. Peerwani’s office failed to preserve autopsy photographs which related to the actual cause of death.

“Failure to preserve the material autopsy photographs contributed to the jury’s acquittal on the capital murder charge resulting in a conviction on a lesser charge.”

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.