A federal judge took under advisement Thursday a Branch Davidian’s request to be transferred from jail to a halfway house.
Renos Avraam, 31, a British citizen, has been held at the McLennan County Jail as a material witness since he fled the April 19 fire that destroyed Mount Carmel, the cult’s compound 10 miles east of Waco.
Four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were killed in a Feb. 28 shoot-out with the Branch Davidians.
Agents were trying to arrest cult leader Vernon Howell for possession of automatic weapons. Six cult members died in the gun battle.
Avraam, who joined the Branch Davidians a year ago, was interviewed by the Texas Rangers on the day of the fire, then taken the next day before a federal grand jury in Waco.
Attorney Dick Kettler of Waco told U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. that the government’s holding of Avraam as a material witness was a “subterfuge.”
Kettler argued that the U.S. attorney’s office wants to keep Avraam in jail until it can make a case against him.
“My client is being held as if he had been charged or convicted of a crime,” Kettler said.
Federal prosecutors — in responding to why Avraam should remain in jail — pointed out Avraam had refused to cooperate fully with the grand jury. Also, they said, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service wants Avraam detained, contending he is in the country illegally.
Kettler, outside of court, said he just wants his client to get similar treatment to that afforded cult member David Thibodeau, who has been released to the custody of his family in Maine.
“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 released to go to Maine. If he had 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.”
Judge Smith did not issue a ruling on Kettler’s request. He instead took it under advisement.
In other developments Thursday, the Texas Water Commission released the results of a battery of tests run on water samples taken from the Mount Carmel compound.
Larry Fergusson, district manager with the commission, said, “There is no evidence or contamination that would place (the compound) in a hazardous contamination situation.”
The tests were run in liquid samples removed from various areas at the compound to determine if there was any contaminations of the site by lead or mercury.
Results from tests run on soil samples to check for contamination are due out today.