Jurors deliberated more than two hours Thursday but failed to reach a verdict in the trial of eight Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists accused of trying to murder George Roden, who claims to be the messiah.
Visiting Judge Herman Fitts of Mineral Wells ordered the jurors to report at 9 a.m. today to resume deliberations.
Most of Thursday was spent drawing up the charge given jurors. The seven men and five women will consider only attempted murder charges against Vernon Wayne Howell , 28, whom many church members call a prophet, Paul Fatta, Floyd Houtman, Peter Hipsman, David Jones, Gregory Summers, James Riddle and Stan Sylvia.
No lesser offenses were included on the charge.
Defense attorney Gary Coker was pleased the charge allows jurors to vote for acquittal if they decide the defendants fired at Roden, 50, in self-defense.
“Anytime you’ve got people shooting at each other, the issue arises somewhere down the line,” he said. “Sometimes a jury needs something like that to hang their hat on.”
The trial went to the jury about 4:30 p.m. after impassioned final arguments.
Prosecutor El-Hadi Shabazz told jurors how Solomon distinguished between a real flower and a fake flower by having his servants open the window.
“Solomon said, ‘Whichever flower the bees land on, those will be the real flowers,’” Shabazz said. “I ask you to open the window of your mind and whichever set of facts the truth lands on, let that be the basis of your verdict.”
Shabazz accused the eight defendants — who were arrested Nov. 3, 1987, wearing military fatigues and carrying high-powered rifles after a shootout with Roden — of presenting “camouflage testimony.”
The defendants say they went to 77 acres near Elk, northeast of Waco, to photograph bones in a casket to document a case of corpse abuse against Roden. On Wednesday, Roden testified that he had tried three times to resurrect the body in the casket.
Prosecutor Denise Wilkerson, however, told jurors the Branch Davidians believed the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department would not file the complaint and went to what was then Rodenville to kill Roden.
“The plan was to force George Roden into a confrontation and make sure he had a weapon on him when they shot him so they could argue self-defense,” she said. “They came armed with the same weapons, so none of them would have to take responsibility for the shots that killed George Roden.”
Coker said the defendants were carrying high-powered rifles and more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition because of Roden’s reputation for carrying guns, including the Uzi he used that day, and because of an ex-convict named Donnie Joe Harvey was staying with Roden.
Roden testified Wednesday that Roy (Boy) Wells also lived at Rodenville. Wells is charged with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamines in connection with an Elm Mott drug raid.
“The only reason these people (Branch Davidians) were run out of the compound in 1984 was because George Roden had a gun,” Coker said. “He is a bully. These people aren’t used to fighting. They may be unusual, they may be different in their beliefs, but at least they’re peaceful and don’t mean to harm anybody. Sure they wanted the land back. It’s their land. What was Rodenville but George Roden and his ex-convicts?”
Shabazz called Coker’s argument the “rabid dog defense.”
“He’s made George Roden look so bad that shooting him was all right,” he said. “That’s what he wants you to think. I don’t care how crazy he is, he’s protected by the Constitution and he has the right to life.”
Coker returned Shabazz’s favor by calling the prosecution’s case “the big lie.”
He ended his final argument asking jurors to think of the sign that had said Mount Carmel Center before Roden changed it to Rodenville.
“By your verdict, let’s paint over that sign,” he said. “Let these people go back and live like they’ve always lived.”
Shabazz ended by telling jurors the eight defendants were a paramilitary group.
“They’ve got to shoot somebody,” he said. “They’ve got to target their hate at somebody. If they get rid of George Roden, somebody else will be the target of their hatred.”
After final arguments, the jury bypassed a break Fitts offered them and started deliberations. Howell waited in a hallway chair. Between talking about the Bible prophecy with several men, he expressed disappointment that Shabazz didn’t believe he was innocent.
“Maybe after the verdict, he’ll come up and give me a hug,” he said.
At 5:52 p.m., jurors returned to the courtroom. They asked to read portions of the testimony of Howell, Sylvia, Williams and Roden when they resumed deliberations today.