A Waco attorney who represented Vernon Howell and a band of followers after a shootout six years ago has offered to act as mediator with the group and thinks that a multitude of movie offers might be the key to getting the cult leader to surrender.
“There for sure is going to be a movie on this deal,” attorney Gary Coker said about the bloody siege of the Mount Carmel Branch Davidian compound by federal agents on Sunday.
“If somebody could convince Vernon that there is a movie in the works, it wouldn’t be pure, unadulterated Vernon with his Seven Seals and Lamb of Christ message, but it could get some of his message out and give him some money for his defense — and he’s going to need that if he gets out of there alive.”
Coker said his offer to FBI and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officials to go into the compound 10 miles east of Waco and try to talk the group in surrendering has fallen on deaf ears.
“I got no response. I would appreciate the access to them, but it seems they just don’t care,” Coker said.
The government’s military operation was excessive and unnecessary, Coker said. He said Howell probably would have surrendered to authorities had they notified him of the warrant charging him with firearms violations.
The attorney said he has been flooded with offers from movie producers willing to negotiate a deal with Howell, who has claimed to be Jesus Christ and also is known as David Koresh.
“If I could, I would tell Vernon, ‘If you are alive, you can at least have some direction over the movie,’ ” Coker said. “‘But if you are dead, they are liable to do anything with the movie. They are liable to put anything on there. They are liable to put an actor in there who doesn’t look like you or the guy who played Charles Manson on there. At least this way, you would have some control.”
Coker said he has had a “chilling thought” since Sunday’s deadly raid, in which the 33-year-old Howell’s Branch Davidian followers shot it out with ATF agents and now are engaging in a tense standoff.
“Do you know how old Jesus was when he died? Thirty-three. Do you know how old Vernon is now? I just hope the similarities go no further than that,” Coker said.
Coker successfully represented Howell and other cult members on attempted murder charges in 1988 after a shootout with rival prophet George Roden, who once claimed to be the leader of the Branch Davidians at Mount Carmel.
Like Howell, Roden, too, has claimed to be Jesus Christ. He is currently a mental patient at Vernon State Hospital after being found incompetent to stand trial on murder charges in Odessa.
At their trial, Coker portrayed the cult members, including Howell, as hard-working, devout Christians who do not claim to be Jesus Christ. He said they simply were trying to gather evidence that Roden was abusing a corpse by trying to resurrect a woman buried on the land when the shootings occurred.
Compared to the wild ramblings of Roden, Coker portrayed an accurate picture, at least as he and others saw it at the time, he said.
“I haven’t heard him say that he was Jesus Christ,” Coker said. “Maybe it is the pressure of leadership and their passion that drives men to the edge. But he didn’t call himself Jesus Christ, at least in my presence.
“Vernon Howell never called himself a deity or Christ, but then I haven’t seen him for 3½ years.”