Members of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists tried to manipulate the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department into helping them reclaim the land that George Roden kicked them off of in 1985, Lt. Elijah Dickerson said Wednesday.
Dickerson, testifying in the second day of the attempted murder trial of eight defendants accused of trying to murder Roden, told jurors that Wayne Martin, legal counsel for the religious splinter group, once said about the disputed land, “We’ll get it any way we can.”
“Do you think they were trying to use the sheriff’s office to get the property back?” Prosecutor El-Hadi Shabazz asked.
“In my opinion, yes,” Dickerson said.
Vernon Howell, 28, president of the group that split with Roden, and seven of Howell’s followers are charged with donning camouflage clothing and engaging in a shootout Nov. 3, 1987, with Roden near Elk, about 12 miles northeast of Waco, on 77 acres claimed by both sides.
Roden — who calls his religious group the General Association Branch, Davidian Seventh-day Adventists—suffered a hand wound before sheriff’s department deputies halted the standoff.
Two weeks ago, U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. sentenced Roden, 49, to a six-month sentence for filing obscene legal motions.
Dickerson testified Wednesday that members of Howell’s group accused Roden, who claims to be the son of Christ, with corpse abuse just days before the shootout. They showed Dickerson a photograph of an Israeli flag draped over a casket.
“They said he had dug up the grave of a member, a lady with one arm missing, and had the body in the church and was trying to raise it from the dead,” Dickerson said. “They had not seen it, but that was what they had heard.”
Dickerson said he refused to go out to the land Howell and his followers call Mount Carmel Center and Roden calls Rodenville to investigate for lack of evidence.
Under questioning from defense attorney Gary Coker, Dickerson said a church member reported visiting the site and seeing the corpse.
“He said he pulled back the flag and saw the body,” Dickerson said, reading his report. “There was no skin or guts. Just bones and hair on the head.”
Dickerson testified he told church members that the sheriff’s department needed a photograph of the corpse.
“Has the sheriff’s office ever condoned anyone dressed up in camouflage fatigues and armed with high-powered rifles going out and getting evidence?” Shabazz asked in follow-up questioning.
“No sir,” Dickerson said.
Coker, after the court adjourned, said Howell and his followers did not use the sheriff’s office to try and set up Roden’s murder.
“The only way George held the land was that he terrified everyone,” Coker said. “These people are not violent people. They work, farm and pray a lot. They may have wanted the sheriff’s department to arrest George so they could peacefully retake their land, but it was because they didn’t want to confront him.”
Five assault rifles, two 12-gauge shotguns, two .22 rifles, 2,996 rounds of ammunition for the assault rifles, 65 rounds of ammunition for the shotguns and 480 round of ammunition for the .22-caliber rifles were introduced into evidence early, as Lt. Gene Barber testified about the weaponry seized from the eight defendants.
With the arsenal plainly in the jury’s sight, both sides zeroed in on the weaponry’s potential for harm.
Barber, in response to Shabazz’s questioning, told the jury that a bullet from the assault weapons would “fragment and disintegrate the bone and do a tremendous amount of tissue damage,” and that the pattern of bullets embedded into a tree Roden hid behind indicate the eight defendants were trying to shoot him.
Coker asked Barber if eight men using high-powered weapons could kill one man with a semi-automatic rifle, if that was really their intent.
“Using the proper tactics, they could have,” Barber said.
At one point, Coker asked Barber the diameter of the tree that the 5-10, 240-pound Roden hid behind.
“Would you say that Roden’s diameter is more or less than the tree?” Coker asked.
“It depends on whether he was facing the tree or standing in profile,” Barber said.
Testimony ended with both sides arguing whether Roden had the right to be on the 77 acres on the day of the shootout. Coker successfully offered into evidence the 1979 injunction by Judge Bill Logue of the 19th District Court ordering Roden not to set foot on the land.