Prosecutors are apparently stepping back from their hard line on Branch Davidians who emerged from Mount Carmel after a disastrous Feb. 28 raid.
After brief detention hearings before U.S. Magistrate Dennis Green, one witness was allowed to go home with his mother and two others were ordered into the Salvation Army halfway house.
David Thibodeau was ordered released to the custody of his mother, Balenda Ganem, while Rita Faye Riddle and Ruth Ottman Riddle were released to a halfway house.
Ganem attributed her son’s release to “the hand of God, power of love and a good attorney.”
“I feel so wonderful,” she said. “It’s a pretty remarkable surprise for us.”
“She’s the best,” said Thibodeau while hugging his mother as he exited McLennan County Jail barefooted.
Ganem, who was all smiles, fussed over her son, saying she had included some shoes and an extra shirt in the parcel of clothing she had sent inside the jail.
His attorney, Gary Richardson, said that when the time comes, Thibodeau is going to tell his story.
“It’s his position that the truth has not been heard — that they were shocked at reports they were hearing on the inside that the law enforcement was giving,” Richardson said. “He’s going to tell his story, and this country’s going to be surprised when they hear it.”
Thibodeau said the FBI made the Davidians look “increasingly bad.”
Richardson said Thibodeau attempted to communicate with his mother through the video tape, but negotiators never gave it to her.
A lack of trust
Thibodeau said he wanted his mother to know Branch Davidians weren’t being held against their will.
“If anything, we had a lack of trust to come out from the way that the . . . FBI was handling themselves on our property — the way they destroyed our property.
“Hey, look, this is America,” Thibodeau said. “What the hell’s going on?”
The Riddles and Thibodeau remain material witnesses in the Feb. 28 shootout between cult members and federal agents that killed four agents and wounded 16. Six Branch Davidians reportedly died in that firefight.
Rita Riddle became the first former resident of the Mount Carmel compound since the very first days to have charges dropped. She was arrested April 19 at the Salvation Army halfway house, even as FBI tanks were breaking walls and injecting tear gas at Mount Carmel, and charged with conspiracy to kill federal agents.
Catherine Matteson and Margaret Lawson, two elderly women who were the first adults released, were initially charged with conspiracy to murder federal agents and then were released.
INS waiting in the wings
Graeme Craddock on Monday was ordered held in the McLennan County Jail without bond as a material witness.
Craddock’s attorney, Stanley Rentz, said he agreed to the continued detention, partly because the Immigration and Naturalization Service has a detainer on Craddock and would want him if he were released.
Craddock, like many Branch Davidians, apparently overstayed a six-month visitor’s visa while living at the compound.
In addition, an order was entered Friday allowing Victorine Hollingsworth to return to London while retaining her material witness status.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston declined comment on the apparent loosening of the government hard line on material witnesses. Previous government operating procedure had been to keep everyone possible in the McLennan County Jail with a few exceptions released to halfway houses.
But Johnston fought hard to keep Jaime Castillo, who is charged with conspiracy to kill federal agents, behind bars.
Texas Ranger Calvin Collins told Green that two Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents involved in the Feb. 28 firefight saw Castillo packing a firearm that day. Collins quoted from affidavits from the two agents who said Castillo told them, during a cease-fire to pull back with dead and wounded agents, to “stay up against the wall so I can keep an eye on you.”
Collins also said Castillo told an investigator he was armed that morning.
“This definitely was playing a role as an authority, telling agents where to stand and how to act while possessing a weapon,” Johnston argued. “We have not seen so significant a role in all these proceedings we’ve had so far.”
Castillo’s attorney, Jeff Kearney of Fort Worth, argued that no one has testified to seeing Castillo actually firing a weapon that Sunday morning.
He brought a parade of family members—Castillo’s mother, Victoria Castillo, and sister Maria, both from suburbs of Los Angeles—who testified Jaime could stay with them until trial.
“There’s no evidence he ever entered into any agreement whose purpose was to cause the death of any federal agent,” Kearney said in closing arguments.
Johnston countered by reading from one affidavit of a raiding agent.
“At least one agent viewed David Koresh inside the front door. David Koresh was observed to smile, then closed the door and fire erupted from within the compound, coming through the door and walls,” Johnston read.
He then told Green that Castillo’s statements have put him in the area of the front door when the raid started.
Green promised a ruling on allowing Castillo to bond out of jail in the near future.