The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Lee Hancock

Agents use light against sect as psychological maneuver attorney for jailed member says group's hardships growing

WACO -- Two days after they cut electricity to the besieged Branch Davidian cult compound, federal authorities bathed the structure in an eerie light as darkness fell Sunday.

A federal spokeswoman would not elaborate on what she called the latest "tactical maneuver' against David Koresh and his religious sect.

The use of lights, a psychological ploy aimed at disrupting sleep cycles, is the most visibly aggressive tactic by federal authorities in their effort to pressure the beleaguered Branch Davidians.

The living conditions for the 105 people still inside the compound became clearer Sunday when an attorney for one recently surrendered Branch Davidian said Mr. Koresh's followers have gone two days without electricity and face mounting hardships. The lawyer added, however, that people remain committed and have enough food to hold out for a year.

In a wide-ranging 45-minute interview Sunday afernoon, Scott Peterson, attorney for sect member Kathryn Schroeder, said the group is disappointed that his client was jailed without bail as a material witness immediately after surrendering to authorities Friday morning.

Mr. Peterson said that Steve Schneider, Mr. Koresh's chief lieutenant and a participant in talks wih federal agents, indicated in talks Sunday with Mrs. Schroeder that her jailing was not the group's "expectation.'

FBI negotiators allowed Mr. Schneider to hold separate 30-minute phone conversations with Mrs. Schroeder and Oliver Gyarfas, a 19-year-old Australian who left the compound Friday night, Mr. Peterson said. Mr. Gyarfas' attorney could not be reached for comment Sunday night.

Within an hour after those phone calls, cult members hung a new a banner in a high window of the heavily fortified compound. The banner read: "FBI broke negotiation. We want press.'

Federal officials would not comment, saying only that negotiations were continuing Sunday, the 15th day of the standoff.

`Abnormal' talks

The banner's appearance capped a day in which FBI Special Agent Bob Ricks characterized talks as slow-moving and even "abnormal' when compared with past federal negotiations to end protracted sieges. Federal authorities said they have heard nothing more about three adults who had requested to leave the compound. Mr. Koresh has released 21 children and four adults.

Mr. Peterson said sect members remain fearful of surrendering because they are not convinced that authorities won't do them further harm.

He said his client has volunteered to encourage her friends to give up and do whatever else she can to help federal authorities end the standoff. But Mr. Peterson said his client appears unsure that the siege can be ended without further bloodshed.

Mrs. Schroeder is one of four sect members -- three women and one man -- who have left the compound since Mr. Koresh's followers began holding a virtual army of federal agents at bay.

The siege began with a firefight Feb. 28 in which four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were killed after they and others tried to search the compound and arrest Mr. Koresh. At least three sect members were killed.

In her Sunday phone conversation, Mr. Peterson said, Mrs. Schroeder tried to encourage Mr. Schneider with statements that "she's being treated humanely, (that) she believes that the only way to get the truth told is for everyone to come out alive. She told them that she believed the FBI is sincere in their efforts to reach a peaceful end to the situation.'

Based on discussions with Mrs. Schroeder, Mr. Peterson said, he believes the group is tired, tense and increasingly frustrated that the outside world has not heard "the truth' of what has happened to them -- a story clearly at odds with accounts that federal officials have given of the standoff and its causes.

For Mrs. Schroeder, he said, that truth is that "she's got a dead husband and it's believed that an ATF bullet killed her husband from 350 yards away.' The body of her husband, Michael Schroeder, was recovered March 4 by federal authorities, who said the man was found near the compound still clutching a Glock pistol. Members' fears

Mr. Peterson said Mrs. Schroeder is reluctant to publicly release more details of her husband's death or the bloody firefight because she does not want to increase tensions.

Mr. Peterson said the Branch Davidians are clearly fearful of what they might face if they leave their heavily fortified, rural lair.

Federal authorities said Sunday that their most recent talks with cult members have focused on concerns of a "small number' of members about how they could be treated and charged if they agreed to surrender.

Mr. Peterson said he will ask a federal magistrate on Tuesday to consider releasing his client. He said he will argue that she has done nothing wrong and her release would send a "positive signal' possible capable of ending the standoff.

Federal authorities said Sunday, however, that they will hold anyone who leaves the compound as material witness until they can sort out who shot at agents or committed other crimes in the gunbattle.

Mr. Peterson said his client described increasingly difficult living conditions inside the besieged cult buildings.

She reported that some bodies of cult members remain inside the compound, including that of Perry Jones, 64, Mr. Koresh's legal father-in-law and one of the group's oldest members, he said. Federal authorities said they also have been told that Mr. Jones was among those killed in the Feb. 28 firefight but have not confirmed his death.

She acknowledged that other sect members were wounded and need medical attention.

Mr. Peterson said electrical power to the compound was turned off Friday night, leaving the group with virtually no contact with the outside world except a few battery-powered radios. The group has no backup generators, as federal authorities once speculated.

Agent Ricks acknowledged Sunday that authorities are employing tactics aimed at showing besieged cult followers who really controls the heavily fortified compound.

One federal law enforcement official said authorities cut power to the compound at random intervals for several days before severing it completely Friday night. "We'd been letting them watch the news conferences,' the official said.

The official said cult members normally use 5-gallon buckets as toilets and then dump the contents outside. But since the siege began, they have been forced to live in their own filth because they have apparently been unable to remove it from their fortified buildings.

Mr. Peterson said his client did not detail conditions for the 17 children still inside the compound.

For now, however, it appears that authorities and sect members are at odds even on matters such as the group's name. During Sunday's news briefing, Agent Ricks told reporters that Mrs. Schroeder had indicated the sect should be called Davidic Branch Davidians Seventh-day Adventist or, more simply, Koreshians.

But Mr. Peterson disputed Agent Ricks' account, contending that the term "Koreshians' resulted from a misunderstanding between his client and officials.

Staff writer Maggie Rivas contributed to this report.