Lawyers fight to gain access to cult leader

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The Independent Online
A GROUP of conservative lawyers and a radio talk-show host are challenging the FBI's tight control over access to the besieged members of the Branch Davidian sect in their 77-acre fortified compound 10 miles from here. It is said to be the first time lawyers have tried to limit or halt United States government action during an armed stand-off.

The lawyers claim the sect's leader, David Koresh, is being denied his right to talk with a lawyer, and the radio talk-show host wants Mr Koresh on his show. The FBI claims the move is interfering with their negotiations with the sect's leader, Mr Koresh, to try and end the 11-day-old siege.

After allowing Mr Koresh, 33, to appear on radio and in telephone interviews following the bloody 28 February raid on the sect's compound, the FBI has denied the media access to him. They say Mr Koresh craves publicity and, if he knew he could get it, that would serve only to prolong the siege. The more publicity he gets, the longer he will stay in the sect's so-called Mount Carmel compound, the FBI argues.

However, the group of lawyers from southern states - and including Kirk Lyons, a self-described white supremacist from Houston who has defended Ku Klux Klan members - have filed suit in the local court demanding that they be allowed to see Mr Koresh, represent him and negotiate with him. The suit was filed on behalf of Mr Koresh's mother, Bonnie Haldeman.

'This is simply an effort to give Mr Koresh the opportunity to talk with outside counsel,' said another of the lawyers, Dick DeGuerin.

In a separate move, a conservative Dallas talk-show host, Ron Engleman, who has been supportive of Mr Koresh, used his show to ask the sect's leader if he wanted medical supplies and whether he would like to be on his show. If the answer was 'yes', he asked Mr Koresh to hang a sheet out of a window in the compound.

A 8ft long sheet promptly appeared at a watchtower window with the message, 'God help us. We want the press.' Another banner was displayed yesterday asking for the lawyers and for Mr Engleman to come to the compound that is surrounded by hundreds of police, armed agents, armoured vehicles and a handful of tanks.

In the daily press conference on the siege yesterday, an irritated FBI spokesman, Bob Ricks, said Mr Engleman's moves were 'unproductive' to the negotiations the FBI has been conducting. He appealed to the media to desist from attempts to contact Mr Koresh. 'Let's allow us to our job, and let the press do its job,' Mr Ricks said.

The FBI said it is certain, from phone calls it has made to about 40 of the more than 100 people estimated to be in the compound, that Mr Koresh was wounded in the shootout on 28 February, when the compound was raided by law officers wanting to arrest him on firearms charges. He was apparently hit by bullets in the left side and on the wrist. Several other sect members were also wounded and at least two died. Four agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were killed in the raid and 16 wounded.

Building up its case against Mr Koresh, the FBI has raided places where either he or his associates lived in other parts of the country. In one raid in Los Angeles, the FBI seized several videotapes that they say have violent scenes. There were no details.

The FBI says it is in 'complete control' of the compound and can turn off electricity to the sect at any time. 'We will utilise that ability from time to time, but we won't tell you when,' Mr Ricks said. He added that the FBI hoped to resolve the stand-off peacefully, but he warned that the authorities 'have sufficient firepower, if we choose, to completely neutralise this situation at any moment'.

(Photograph omitted)

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