A federal judge took under advisement Friday a plea by Branch Davidian Paul Fatta to be released from jail pending his trial on charges of conspiracy to possess and manufacture unregistered machine guns and aiding and abetting in the possession of machine guns.
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. of Waco heard testimony from a Houston psychiatrist and a legal secretary who has offered to let Fatta, 35, stay in her home.
Fatta, who was at an Austin gun show when the Branch Davidians and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms engaged in a shootout, is seeking to be released from the McLennan County Jail. He has been in custody since April 26, when he turned himself over to the Texas Rangers.
Dr. Richard Pesikoff — a Houston psychiatrist hired to interview Fatta by attorney Mike DeGeurin — testified that he did not consider Fatta violent or a threat to flee if let out of jail.
“He’s a pleasant, loving man who has shown no evidence of violence,” Pesikoff said. “. . . When I spoke to him in jail, he said, ‘I didn’t give myself up to run away.’”
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Phinizy, however, brought up Fatta’s involvement in a 1987 shootout between cult leader Vernon Howell and rival George Roden. Howell and seven of his followers, including Fatta, were charged with attempted murder. A McLennan County jury found the followers not guilty. Charges were dropped against Howell.
“My understanding was that another individual started the trouble, and they were defending themselves,” Pesikoff said.
Martha Allen, a legal secretary to DeGeurin, offered to post a bond for Fatta’s release and let him stay at her home.
“I’ve been working with attorneys for 35 years,” Allen said. “I consider myself a pretty good judge of character, and I was impressed by Paul’s character and by his sincerity.”
Phinizy argued that Fatta had no ties to Waco and had already proved that he had people who would hide him. Phinizy noted that Fatta told the Dallas Morning News that friends hid him after the government issued an arrest warrant for him in early March.
DeGeurin told Smith that he had negotiated with the Texas Rangers for several weeks on how Fatta should turn himself in.
Part of Fatta’s delay was that he didn’t know why he was wanted, DeGeurin said. At first, Fatta thought he had been accused of tipping the cult off of the ATF raid. Later, he thought the ATF wanted to use him as a negotiator in its 51-day standoff with the cult, which ended April 19 in a fire that destroyed Mount Carmel.