As the sun set Tuesday on the last day of the Branch Davidians’ Passover, Vernon Howell’s attorney prepared for yet another round of talks with the cult leader.
However, Attorney Dick DeGuerin spoke only by telephone with Howell’s right-hand man, Steve Schneider, because Howell could not come to the phone.
DeGuerin held an impromptu press conference shortly after 10 p.m. at the Waco Hilton, where he is staying.
Although he refused to give details of his conversation with Schneider, he said he will try again to talk with Howell by telephone at 10 a.m. today.
That, he said, will be the last time the FBI will allow him to contact the cult leader until Howell and his followers leave the compound.
When and if that time comes, DeGuerin said, he and Howell would leave first, followed by the other cultists. Schneider and his attorney, Jack Zimmermann, would bring up the rear.
Prior to his phone conversation with Schneider, DeGuerin said there was no change in the status of the 46-day standoff between the Branch Davidians and authorities.
Earlier Tuesday, FBI special agent Bob Ricks said negotiators spoke with Howell, also known as David Koresh, from 12:29 to 5:40 a.m. Negotiators told Howell that DeGuerin would be in contact with him by phone.
Ricks said the FBI would not characterize its position as more hopeful in light of more contact between Howell and his attorney. He said the five-hour conversation between negotiators and Howell did not break any new ground, though the agency still hopes for a peaceful end to the standoff.
Howell and nearly 100 of his followers, including 17 children, have been holed up inside the compound since Feb. 28, when a failed raid by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms turned into a bloody gun battle.
Four agents and at least two cult members died.
In the past, DeGuerin has said that Howell and his followers would leave the compound after Passover, which is considered a holy time for the cult.
Schneider has told the FBI that neither he nor Howell promised to come out after Passover.
Howell told negotiators Tuesday that he is still waiting on a message from God to tell him when to come out.
Ricks also said an analysis of the letters Howell sent to the FBI over the weekend left them, “viewed as threatening.”
Referring to violent biblical passages, the letters promise God’s revenge upon any who hurt Howell.
But DeGuerin had a different interpretation of the letters.
He said a number of passages in the letters show Howell may have received a long-awaited message from God and that he may be ready to tell his story in court.
“One passage I think is very telling says, ‘When thy hand is lifted, the fire of thy enemies will devour them,’ ” DeGuerin said.
Day in court?
“It’s as if he is saying when he speaks in court, the truth will become known that what the ATF did on Feb. 28 will end up destroying the ATF. The power is in what he is going to say in court.”
Ricks said nothing “would please us more” than if Howell really intended to come out and let the justice system determine the outcome.
But Marc Breault, a past confidant of Howell’s, tends to agree more with the FBI, saying the verses need to be read in the proper context.
“It’s all blood and guts and destruction,” Breault said.
“They’re not talking about courtrooms. They’re talking about God coming down in a blaze of glory and wasting everyone,” he said. “The Scriptures found in the letters don’t seem to indicate that Vernon will be walking out peacefully.”
Ricks said the FBI will continue its tactics of blasting the compound with lights and sounds over the loudspeakers – if not escalate them.
“As long as the situation remains static . . . It will be obvious that we will maintain at least the status quo, and more than likely, unless David Koresh agrees to surrender, we will turn up the heat.”
Discomfort is the name of the FBI’s game right now, Ricks said.
“The music that’s been played has been specifically selected for its irritation ability,” he said.
“And in most cases, it is not music – sounds of rabbits being slaughtered, sounds of locomotives going through a building, dentist drills.”
No dam sabotage
Ricks also dispelled reports that a Waco area dam was targeted for sabotage.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that authorities monitored a dam near Waco Monday after Howell threatened to destroy it.
Law officers said they were concerned that Branch Davidians outside the compound might try to destroy a dam. The newspaper did not specify which dam was possibly targeted.
Ricks said Schneider told them that it was a prediction from Howell, not a plan of destruction.
“Mr. Schneider gave us assurances that this is a prediction on David’s part, that David is predicting a natural disaster and that there is no criminal intent on his part nor is he requesting anyone else to take action on the part of David to fulfill this prophecy.”
City officials, including Mayor Bob Sheehy, said they did not know if Howell had mentioned the Lake Brazos low-water dam.
The dam is rigged with an alarm system that would alert workers at the Mount Carmel Water Treatment Plant if there ever is an intruder.
As for the Lake Waco dam, “For them to do damage, it would take a massive amount of explosives,” an official said.
Ken Smith, supervisor of the TU Electric Tradinghouse power plant, said he plant did not increase the security around its dam because of the scare. Smith said the plant already has adequate security.
Also Tuesday, attorneys for the Tribune-Herald filed a response to a lawsuit against the newspaper.
Attorneys sought to move the lawsuit filed by wounded ATF agent John T. Risenhoover a federal court, and asked a federal judge to dismiss it.