Their task completed, two weary but optimistic attorneys emerged from eight hours of negotiations with Branch Davidian leaders inside the Mount Carmel compound Thursday to wait for a phone call signaling the end of the monthlong stalemate.
“They are going to do it — now it’s just a matter of timing,” said Houston attorney Jack Zimmerman, who entered the compound for the first time Thursday.
“They’re going to take a rest now, and hopefully one or the other will call their lawyer and tell when they’re coming out.”
“We’ve done about all that a lawyer could do,” said fellow Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, who visited the compound for the fourth day in a row Thursday.
DeGuerin was hired to represent cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh. Zimmerman was hired to represent Howell’s right-hand man, Steve Schneider, who has often substituted for Howell in negotiations.
“We were very pleased with the progress we made today. The next steps are for David and Steve,” DeGuerin said. “I think they’ll make that move soon, but how soon I can’t tell you.”
He also warned reporters outside the Waco Hilton that “no deadlines or specific times” have been agreed to for Howell, Schneider and the other Branch Davidians to come out.
The attorneys said those inside agreed to summon them when they are ready to come out, so they can be escorted from siege situation that has gripped the compound since a bloody Feb. 28 federal raid that left four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents dead.
“I think everyone is in agreement that part of the hesitation that has been encountered in the past is an assurance that they be treated humanely and with dignity,” Zimmerman said.
“With David Koresh accompanied by Mr. DeGuerin, and Steve Schneider accompanied by myself, that assures them that that will happen.”
The ’final hurdle’
Authorities’ decision to let Zimmerman enter Mount Carmel came a day after FBI Special Agent Bob Ricks said only DeGuerin would be allowed inside — unless another attorney’s appearance was the “final hurdle” to a surrender.
Ricks backed off that statement Thursday.
“I cannot characterize this as the last hurdle,” he said. “That’s the way I characterized it before. I’m going on the representations made by Mr. DeGuerin. He indicated that this was one of the matters he believed necessary to get this issue behind us and work toward a final resolution.”
DeGuerin ran into problems discussing the legal issues facing both Howell and Schneider, Ricks said.
“What he expressed was that he was talking to both Mr. Schneider and Mr. Koresh,” Ricks said.
“It appeared that both had separate legal issues. He did not feel competent to represent both of them. They could perhaps have opposing needs when this matter comes to trial.”
Ricks said he doesn’t expect a resolution in the next few days to the standoff, which began when ATF officers tried to serve an arrest warrant to Howell for possession of automatic weapons. At least two cult members died in the shootout.
“The other members in the group indicated at various times that Passover was key to them,” Ricks said. “This was reported previously by Mr. Koresh. So I think somewhere along this agenda, Passover is entering into the equation.”
Branch Davidians are manipulating events to occur in line with their prophecies, Ricks said.
‘To occur In sync’
“I believe it’s their goal to have whatever takes place, whether it’s a peaceful resolution or whatever, to occur in sync with those,” he said. “I believe they have finally brought that up in their discussions. I can’t say that with certainty based on what Mr. DeGuerin told me. But he is frustrated. He thought the matter was going to be over by now.”
DeGuerin admitted Wednesday night this his talks with Howell weren’t going as fast as he had hoped.
“David’s health had a lot to do with it,” DeGuerin said. “He’s suffering from his wounds, and he’s a little tired. . . . He needs a doctor.”
Howell has said he was shot twice in the shootout, once in the side and in the wrist.
DeGuerin said Howell looked much better during their marathon session Thursday.
Once again, as he has done more and more recently, Ricks chided Howell.
“The best part about Mr. Koresh is that he is very flexible with regard to certain biblical events and time schedules,” Ricks said. “He could interpret Passover as beginning right now. I don’t think he would have any trouble doing that if it would fit his needs.”
Howell’s grandmother, Jean Holub, said she retained famed defense attorney Melvin Bell of San Francisco on behalf of her grandson. Belli said he would try to visit Howell, but not at the expense of the other attorneys work.
“I’m certainly not going to compete with anybody,” Bell said. “I’ve got enough to do.”
Belli said he wouldn’t be able to come to Waco until the middle of next week, but he sent as associate to meet with authorities.