David Thibodeau, since fleeing a burning Mount Carmel has appeared on “A Current Affair,” sued the National Enquirer and stayed with family members in Maine.
Fellow Branch Davidian Anetta Richards spends her days in a half-way house.
Livingston Fagan is in jail.
All are being held by the federal government as material witnesses to the Feb. 28 shootout between the Branch Davidians and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms at Mount Carmel.
Four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians died in the fighting.
Attorney Dwight Goains of Waco, who represents Richards, said he’s wondered about the disparate treatment of the Branch Davidians by the government.
“I’ve thought about it,” he said. “I have a client who has done absolutely nothing, and she’s still in a half-way house.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Phinizy said most people are held up to 60 days as material witness, but it is up to the discretion of the judge presiding over the case,
But attorney Gary Coker of Waco — who represents Branch Davidians Ruth Ottman, Catherine Mattson and Sheila Martin — calls government prosecutors’ use of the material witness statute, “unprecedented.”
“No guidance on the statute allows that it’s to hold people indefinitely,” he said. “Some of these people have been held for months. It’s an unprecedented use of this statute.
“I wouldn’t think Congress would want it used this way: to hold people for months when there is no indication that they’re ever going to be charged with anything,” Coker said.
Whether a material witness is released or housed at a jail or half-way house depends “on their likelihood of being available as a witness,” Phinizy said.
Waco attorney Dick Kettler challenged that view, however. He looks at Thibodeau, who is in Maine, and wonders why his client, Renos Avraam of England, is sitting in the McLennan County Jail.
“It’s curious to me,” Kettler said. “Except for my guy being a citizen of Great Britain, in my mind there’s no difference between the two. David Thibodeau has no ties to Waco, but he’s been it in his mind to flee this jurisdiction, it would be easy to do up there. I really don’t know what’s going on.”
Rumors had circulated that Thibodeau was released after operating with authorities. But his attorney Gary Richardson of Tulsa, denied that Thibodeau had made any deals.
“When they let him out there was no agreement whatsoever, zero,” Richardson said. “He did testify before a federal grand jury, but he told them the same story that he’s been telling in interviews. I don’t know why he was released. We approached the table to have our hearing like everyone else, and a prosecutor called me aside. He said if we had no objections, they were going to release David. He could go back home. And that’s it.”
Attorney Jeff Kearney of Fort Worth, who represents cult member Jaime Castillo, who is charged with conspiracy to murder a federal agent, said he believes Richardson. He thinks Thibodeau’s mother, Balenda Ganem, played a role in his release.
“Basically, he had a mother who was there for 50 days waiting for him,” Kearney said. “I think she convinced the government that Maine would be a good place for him to be. Also, I don’t think David Thibodeau is a target of any federal investigation. They apparently don’t think they can place a gun in his hand. He was one of the non-gun people. He’s just a witness.”
Fourteen Branch Davidians are considered material witnesses.
Two of them have been released: Thibodeau and Victorine Hollingsworth; six are in jail: Fagan, Oliver Gyarfus, Gladys Ottman, Avraam, Graeme Craddock and Derek Lovelock; and seven are in half-way houses: Richards, Margaret Lawson, James Lawter, Sheila Martin, Rita Riddle, Ofelia Santoyo and Ruth Ottman.
Change of heart
Coker said it appeared that Sheila Martin, wife of the late Wayne Martin who died in the April 19 fire that destroyed Mount Carmel, was going to be released to family members in New England. Then she talked about staying in Waco a few weeks to say goodbye to friends, and the government changed its mind, Coker said.
“It’s hard to figure their reasoning,” he said.
“It looks like if she is a material witness, they would want her to stay in the area. About all you can say is if you play ball with the U.S. attorney’s office, they might eventually let you go sometime.”