Attempts to use Waco attorney Wayne Martin to end the Mount Carmel standoff fizzled as cult leader Vernon Howell’s hold on him soon became obvious, according to 9-1-1 tapes released Friday.
The tapes contained the last of more than 24 straight hours of telephone conversations between police dispatchers and the Branch Davidians stemming from a call to the emergency number by Martin. Those wanting to hear the 41 cassette tapes released by the Waco Police Department had to pay $375.
Friday’s tapes followed the first negotiations to end the standoff from 12:55 p.m. Feb. 28 until 11:46 a.m. the next day.
As detailed in tapes released earlier, Martin placed the 9-1-1 call on Feb. 28 at 9:48 a.m.
Four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents died after storming the Branch Davidians’ compound at Mount Carmel. They sought to arrest Howell for allegedly possessing automatic weapons. At least five cult members also died.
Early negotiations to end the resulting standoff were carried out on two fronts. The tapes reveal that while Lt. Larry Lynch of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department kept Martin on the 9-1-1 line, ATF negotiators periodically talked to both Howell and his top lieutenant, Steve Schneider. Occasionally, Schneider also talked to Lynch.
On earlier tapes, authorities talked about using Martin — who regularly dealt with outsiders as an attorney, unlike most of the cult members — to circumvent Howell and get the Branch Davidians to surrender peacefully. However, Howell’s unshakeable grip on Martin emerges vividly on the tapes released Friday.
At one point, a weeping Martin gets on the phone with Lynch.
“You know, no one’s ever spoken words like him,” Martin said.
Lynch asked Martin if he was all right. A shaken Martin told Lynch that he felt responsible for the injuries that Howell suffered. Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, who later met with Howell, reported that the cult leader was shot in the side and wrist during the raid.
“Why would you feel responsible?” Lynch asked.
“We’ve been a burden on him,” Martin said. “People have studied with him. We’ve learned the truth from him that nobody else could teach us. And in spite of it all, we still couldn’t follow a few single rules he gave us. So we feel responsible for the way he’s suffering right now.”
Lynch said he found Martin to be a forthright man.
“Take a look at me,” Martin exclaimed. “I’m overweight. I’m not supposed to be that way. I’m supposed to get in shape. I tried my best. I came up short.”
Ironically, Howell didn’t follow his own ever-changing dietary rules. Visitors at Mount Carmel reported that he sometimes drank shakes in front of the cult members, for whom the drinks were forbidden.
Martin and Schneider are edgy throughout the phone conversations, constantly asking Lynch about helicopters and planes in the area.
At 4:54 p.m. that Sunday, Martin reported seeing ATF agents near the compound’s dairy barn. Lynch said ATF agents had withdrawn from the area. A short burst of gunfire followed. Both sides accused each other of firing the shots.
It was about 5 p.m. that Michael Schroeder was shot to death trying to enter Mount Carmel. He had been outside the compound when the raid occurred. Another cult member, Norman Allison, was arrested.
Throughout the early negotiations, the Branch Davidians pushed authorities to allow Howell to get his message out to the media.
But authorities felt some of the media was interfering with their efforts to negotiate. At one point, a reporter for A Current Affair had an operator break into a government call negotiating the release of the children from the compound. The reporter said it was an emergency.
“No, no, operator, this is a federal agent,” a voice is heard sputtering. “Hello, operator. Wait a minute . . . The operator just cut into our line for A Current Affair. God Almighty.”
Eventually, the first of 21 children were released. It was the children, according to the tapes, who gave authorities their first substantive intelligence on the cult’s casualties from the raid.
FBI agent Jim Echols reports, “They say that someone named Winston is hurt. David is laying down. Perry is dead.”
Authorities later learned that cult members Winston Blake and Perry Jones, Howell’s father-in-law, died in the raid.
Staff writer Mark England will continue his synopsis of the Mount Carmel 9-1-1 tapes in a story for Sunday’s Tribune-Herald.