Prosecutors face tough task as Waco trial opens: Account of cult's final days promises to be as bizarre as the legal case is complex

ONE defendant is seeking to have the word 'cult' banned entirely from proceedings. Another has spent her nine months in prison studying Hebrew and Greek so as to read the Bible in the original. Even in a courtroom, the story of the self- styled messiah David Koresh and his followers promises to be scarcely less bizarre than the real- life version which ended in fiery apocalypse last spring near Waco, on the prairies of central Texas.

Today the trial of 11 Branch Davidians opens in San Antonio, where it was moved after a judge ruled in October that intense publicity had made impossible a fair hearing in Waco itself. They face charges of murder and conspiracy to murder, as well as violations of firearms laws, all arising from the original raid on Koresh's Mount Carmel compound last February, in which four agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) were shot dead and 16 were wounded.

Of the defendants, seven are Americans, one is Australian, and three - Renos Avraam, Norman Allison and Livingston Fagan - are British. Ten are men, and one a woman. Some, like Mr Avraam, survived the final conflagration on 19 April in which Koresh and at least 84 of his devotees died after the FBI sent in battering rams and tear-gas for the final assault.

Others surrendered to the authorities during the 51-day siege, while one of them at least was even in the compound when the original botched assault by federal agents took place on 28 February. The trial will be enormously complex and last two months at least. If convicted, the accused face anything up to life imprisonment. Whether they will be, however, is far from certain.

The academic and legal specialists who have flocked to San Antonio are unanimous that state prosecutors face an uncommonly tricky task. To secure conviction on the looser conspiracy charges, they need only prove broad prior agreement among the Branch Davidians to use guns to repel any assault. But the jurors may be hard pressed indeed to assign individual guilt for the deaths of the four ATF agents.

Furthermore, the defence will argue that by bungling the raid, the government itself must take some responsibility for the first shoot- out, in which six Davidians also died. It has been established, for instance, that the Bureau decided to go ahead with the planned frontal attack even though they already knew that Koresh had learnt exactly when it would happen.

Then there is the equal if not larger controversy surrounding the final FBI onslaught which turned Mount Carmel into an inferno - whether by an accidental explosion or as a result of charges deliberately planted by Koresh. Technically events after 28 February are not at issue. But it seems likely they will intrude into the trial. Some experts believe the horror of 19 April could incline the jurors to leniency.

The greatest unseen presence in the courtroom, however, will be Koresh himself, the self-proclaimed 'Lamb of God'. In the eyes of his followers, his predictions of apocalypse were fulfilled by the siege and its demoniacal ending.

Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Analyst

£30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

Commercial Litigation

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried