The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Christy Hoppe

FBI challenges Koresh to let followers leave leader apparently rejected release of 30 members

WACO -- An FBI official challenged the leadership of doomsday preacher David Koresh with tough language Thursday, saying that Mr. Koresh is unwilling to take charge and "let his people go.'

Mr. Koresh, who re-entered negotiations to end the standoff between members of his Branch Davidian cult and federal authorities Wednesday, apparently aborted plans to allow as many as 30 of his followers to leave the rural compound.

FBI Special Agent Bob Ricks said three buses were driven to the compound Wednesday to retrieve those who wanted to leave, but when pressed to exert leadership, Mr. Koresh "was not able to handle this direct confrontation,' the agent said. Instead, the cult leader said he had to go to the bathroom and refused to return to the phone.

Meanwhile, a federal magistrate ruled Thursday that Kathryn Schroeder, who left the compound March 12, could be released from jail. Prosecutors immediately asked a federal judge to reconsider the decision, meaning Ms. Schroeder will remain in custody until at least Wednesday.

That's when U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr. is scheduled to hear her case. Mrs. Schroeder is being held as a material witness in connection with the Feb. 28 gunbattle between federal agents and the cult members.

At Thursday's briefing, Agent Ricks adopted a more strident tone than usual, saying authorities told Mr. Koresh "that if he's truly a leader of his people, it's time for him to lead, and bring this thing to an end. If he really, truly cares about those people, send those people out, away from harm's way.'

The request to "let those people go' echoes words in the Bible given by God to the prophet Moses, when asking the Egyptian ruler to free the Hebrews from slavery. Mr. Koresh, a self-proclaimed prophet, has said he is waiting on word from God before leaving the cult headquarters.

Agent Ricks also said he believed that the 104 remaining members -- including 17 children -- are "pawns' of Mr. Koresh who will not leave without his permission.

"We're very concerned as part of Koresh's grand scheme that he would like to see a large number of his people die, which would be justification for his pronouncements and the fulfillment of his scriptures,' he said.

The agent's comment follows the disclosure of a note sent from the compound by a female cult member. When the woman's daughter left the compound, she carried a note from her mother to an older sister, who was in Waco seeking custody of the younger girl.

When the older daughter was asked the contents of the note on CBS' 48 Hours Wednesday night, she said the note read: "By the time you get this . . . I'll be dead.'

According to Kiri Jewell, a 12-year-old girl who lived with the Branch Davidians for four years, suicide has been discussed among cult members. On Donahue last week, Ms. Jewell said she was taught how to kill herself while living at the compound. Former cult members and a deprogrammer who has worked with Branch Davidians later disputed that claim.

Awaiting action

No one has left the compound since last Friday, but Agent Ricks said negotiators had been encouraged by a face-to-face meeting Monday between law officers and two cult members.

At the cult members' request, authorities agreed to provide them with members with a number of items, including two national magazines so they could read coverage of the standoff, which entered its 19th day Thursday.

The followers also asked for the cover sheet of the original search warrant, which ATF agents attempted to serve in their raid. Four agents were killed and 16 wounded. FBI agents also were willing to provide statements about whether sect members could retain possession of the Waco compound.

Attempts to schedule a second meeting to turn over these items have been quashed since Mr. Koresh -- after virtually four days of silence -- again entered the talks, Agent Ricks said.

Instead, Mr. Koresh -- who authorities now say is sufficiently recovered from gunshot wounds to walk freely around the compound -- has challenged negotiators to produce tapes from biblical scholars to disprove his teachings.

"The challenge is that if you can prove David wrong, we will come out, which, of course, is an impossible task because he does his own interpretation of the Bible, which is not consistent with any other scholar,' Agent Ricks said.

The FBI agent said he is frustrated by watching signs of progress in resolving the standoff "vaporize.' Negotiators remain patient, however, and see no need "to force the situation,' he said.

Regarding followers in the compound, Agent Ricks said they continue to be dominated by Mr. Koresh.

"The majority, and it may be the totality of all those inside, they do not express fear of being involved in a firefight of any sort of that nature. Any fear they express is the fear of losing their eternal soul,' he said.

There do seem to be some differing opinions, among cult members, he said, but Mr. Koresh and his top lieutenants carefully control all communication with the outside world.

Federal agents on the other hand, control communication going into the compound.

Family messages

Authorities have delivered recorded messages from relatives to cult members. Thursday, James Brannon of Houston, an attorney for Mr. Koresh's grandmother, Jean Holub, complained about the process.

The attorney told The Associated Press that Ms. Holub was required to delete a reference to legal counsel in her message, as well as a suggestion that the cult send a smoke signal to show the tape had been received.

Agent Ricks said what the Branch Davidians want is for all law enforcement agents to "go away. And we have said that is not going to happen.'

Dan Conroy, deputy assistant director of the ATF, said that those inside the compound face a "wide range of penalties' when they do come out, including charges of murder and conspiracy to murder federal agents.

To date, no plea bargains have been discussed with cult members, Agent Ricks said.

"We do always hold out that if there is cooperation with the government, of course, that's going to be counted in their favor if they come out,' he said.

During the briefing, Agent Ricks also said a car left at the compound by the Waco Tribune-Herald had been flattened inadvertently by an armored personnel carrier driven by an FBI agent.

The car was left by reporters who fled the shooting Feb. 28. When the FBI tried to move two cars off the road earlier this week, one of them was run over.

"We are not professional tank drivers,' Agent Ricks said. "We are FBI agents who are driving those vehicles.'

The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Victoria Loe

Bail set for sect member, but appeal delays release

WACO -- Kathryn Schroeder was a free woman Thursday -- in principle, but not in fact.

U.S. Magistrate Dennis Green ordered Mrs. Schroeder released from custody on $10,000 bail and other unspecified conditions. But he stayed his order pending a hearing Wednesday on the government's appeal of his ruling.

"It was a tie,' Mrs. Schroeder's court-appointed defense attorney, Scott Peterson, said after the hearing.

He said the ruling would send a mixed message to people barricaded at the Branch Davidian compound, some of whom reportedly have told negotiators that their willingness to surrender hinges on assurances that they will be treated fairly by the legal system.

Mrs. Schroeder, a 30-year-old mother of four, voluntarily left the compound Friday, saying she wanted to be reunited with her children, who had previously been released by sect leader David Koresh. She has been detained in the McLennan County Jail as a material witness to the Feb. 28 shootout that left four federal agents dead.

Government prosecutors argued at a hearing Tuesday that she should remain in custody because she was likely to flee if released. They also contended that she might pose a danger to witnesses against cult members involved in the firefight with agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Mr. Peterson argued that she posed no risk of flight and no danger to others.

Prosectors had requested Thursday's hearing in order to present further evidence. Much of that evidence was based on interviews with two unnamed witnesses, both of whom were described as having inside knowledge of life at the compound.

One witness was said to have left the compound since the siege began, apparently narrowing the field to the three adult cult members other than Mrs. Schroeder who have surrendered since Feb. 28.

Based on their statements to authorities and transcripts of negotiations, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston portrayed Mrs. Schroeder as a gun-toting ringleader of the Branch Davidians, nicknamed Sarge in deference to her leadership position. ATF Agent Wayne Appelt testified that negotiators' notes described her making "argumentative' demands, such as that Bradley armored vehicles used by federal negotiators be pulled back from the compound.

Mr. Johnston said that Mrs. Schroeder had asked authorities whether she would be free to leave the state if released from custody.

Mr. Peterson portrayed his client as a citizen with a spotless criminal record, a former Air Force sergeant and fiercely protective mother whose chief demand of authorities was milk for the children in the compound.

He implied that her only reason for leaving the state would be to be near her children and other family members. Further, he said she was not only willing but eager to have her day in court.

"She wants to come forward and tell what she saw out there,' Mr. Peterson said. "She makes a promise right now that she would show up (for trial).'

Mrs. Schroeder, dressed in an orange jail uniform and with both feet and one wrist chained, sat quietly through the hearing, her chair turned slightly away from the proceedings. She showed no discernable reaction to the magistrate's ruling.

She has not been charged with a crime. Agent Appel testified that one ATF agent heard shots Feb. 28 from the room where he believed Mrs. Schroeder was staying. However, Mr. Johnston said the testimony was presented only to demonstrate that Mrs. Schroeder is a material witness and not to imply that she personally fired the shots.

He said it is too early to speculate about any criminal charges that might be filed against her, but authorities have said charges are possible against all adult members who were present at the shootout.

Mrs. Schroeder's second husband, William Schroeder, was killed Feb. 28. Her first husband came to Waco after the siege began and won custody of her three oldest children. The fourth child, whom she saw for two hours the day she was released, has gone to live with relatives out of state.