A badly burned cult member testified Wednesday how she escaped the fire that destroyed Mount Carmel by walking “to the light.”
Marjorie Thomas, 30, gave a deposition in federal court regarding criminal cases pending against 11 other Branch Davidians. She was deposed while in a wheelchair. Federal prosecutors scheduled the deposition because Thomas plans to return to her native England for additional surgery.
How the April 19 fire started was unknown to Thomas. She reported being upstairs at the compound when it became smoky and the walls began collapsing. The heat and fire quickly trapped her. Her gas mask melted, Thomas told the court, and her clothes caught fire. Seeing a bit of light shining through a curtain, Thomas walked toward it, making her way to the roof.
An FBI agent escorted her to safety.
After her rescue, Thomas was taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. She had burns over 50 percent of her body, mainly her face, neck and legs. A Parkland spokeswoman said Thomas was released last week.
Government prosecutors questioned Thomas about the Feb. 28 raid on Mount Carmel by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The agency was trying to arrest cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, for allegedly possessing automatic weapons. Four ATF agents and at least five cult members died in a shootout that led to a 51-day siege.
Thomas reported that she did not see any Branch Davidians fire weapons at ATF agents, although she saw two cult members with weapons on the day of the raid. She identified them as Jaime Castillo and Brad Branch.
A suicide pact was agreed upon by some cult members in the event of Howell’s death, Thomas told the court. Some of the Branch Davidian defendants, however, disputed that claim. Thomas also said that the cult never planned to attack anyone in the Waco community. ATF officials suggested after the failed raid that Howell planned an action that he claimed would make people forget the Los Angeles riots. But the agency never provided details regarding the allegation.
Defense attorneys will cross-examine Thomas today.
Waco attorney Stanly Rentz, who represents cult member Graeme Craddock, said Thomas’ deposition did not harm his case.
“I think the biggest thing that came out of this today was the chance to see what kind of person Marjorie Thomas is. She’s like all the other Branch Davidians I’ve met: meek and peaceable.”
Houston attorney Rocket Rosen, who represents Kevin Whitecliffe, said most defense attorneys plan to question Thomas.
“We’re not going to take David Koresh’s side in this,” Rosen said. “His wives and numerous children are unacceptable to the social mores in this part of the country. But to march in with 80 soldiers to raid and kill? We’re going to fight hard for these people because we think they’re victims of guilt by association.”