A writ of habeas corpus brought George Roden, who claims to be the messiah, into the courtroom Wednesday. The body inside a casket parked next to the McLennan County Courthouse rotunda most of the day never made it, though.
Roden, 50, serving a six-month sentence for filing legal motions threatening to have God inflict herpes and acquired immune deficiency syndrome on judges, testified at the trial of eight members of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists accused of trying to murder him. He told jurors he was the messiah and that he tried three times to resurrect the body of a woman who had been dead since 1968.
Judge Herman Fitts refused to let defense attorney Gary Coker admit the casket with the body of Anna Hughes into evidence.
Roden, wearing pullover shirt and sporting a Moses-like beard, fascinated a packed court with rambling narratives on his life and faith. He started quickly when Coker asked him what he did for a living.
“I have a charitable organization. I’m a minister. I’m a presidential candidate. I’m a truck driver,” Roden said. “I guess I’m a Jack-of-all-trades.”
He insisted he had a right to be at the 77 acres near Elk that he calls Rodenville and the Branch Davidians call Mount Carmel Center on Nov. 3, 1987, the day of a shootout between himself and eight Branch Davidians.
Although a 1979 court order issued by State District Judge Bill Logue bars Roden from “holding possession” of any Branch Davidian property, Roden argued that the injunction did not say he couldn’t be on the land.
Near the end of testimony, Coker asked Roden if he had ever called himself the messiah.
“Sunday a week ago, a Baptist minister came to the jail,” Roden said. “He said he had read about me in the paper. He said we were all sons of Christ. That’s what the Pharisees said to Christians and Jews.”
Roden paused, then added, “My mother proclaimed me messiah in 1977. She went to Israel and proclaimed to the rabbis that I was the Branch . . . the one who was going to build the temple in Jerusalem.”
Coker asked Roden if he had ever gone to a Jewish synagogue in Waco and proclaimed himself the messiah. He said he had not.
“You want me to tell you what I did do?” he asked Coker.
Roden told Coker he went to a rabbi’s home with his three sons and knocked at the door. When the rabbi opened the door, Roden entered and proclaimed himself Elijah, the Old Testament prophet who ascended to Heaven in a flaming chariot and whom the Jews believe will return before the messiah.
“What was the reaction of the rabbi?” Coker asked.
“He was pleasantly surprised,” Roden said.
Later, Coker asked Roden if he tried to resurrect the body of Anna Hughes.
“I attempted three times, yes,” Roden said.
To secure Roden’s testimony, Coker had to persuade Fitts at an 8 a.m. hearing to sign a writ ordering the McLennan County’s Sheriff’s Department to turn Roden over as a witness.
Prosecutor El-Hadi Shabazz argued against Coker’s request.
Shabazz told Fitts that because Roden is a federal prisoner, only a federal magistrate could order him released to testify at a state hearing.
Coker earlier withdrew a motion to have Roden declared incompetent. Shabazz responded angrily to the move.
“It’s not ethical to hide behind a judicial process and talk to the media and vilify George Roden up and down as to his mental competency and then, all of a sudden, come into the courtroom and say that he’s competent to testify,” Shabazz said. “That’s wrong. You just don’t treat someone that way.”
Coker, bristling, walked toward Shabazz.
“The defendants have a right to confront their accuser,” he said. “That’s unless Mr. Shabazz has a different idea of the Constitution than I do . . . I filed a motion and I withdrew it. That happens all the time.”
Howell testified in the afternoon. He said Roden shot at him several times as he was running for cover near the house of Don Williams, who was staying with Roden.
“I was kind of jogging and I kind of stumbled,” Howell said. “I was shocked to see a figure at the end of the house pointing a gun at me. I heard, “Crack, crack.” After he shot at me, I ran to the car. I was going toward him until that happened.”
Under intense questioning by Shabazz, Howell said he fired several shots at a tree Roden was hiding behind. Kneeling with the assault rifle he had fired, Howell reenacted his actions.
“I went pow, pow, pow,” Howell said, his voice rising. “I saw George go like that (shaking his hand).”
Howell said he was not trying to shoot Roden, who suffered a hand wound.