The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Lee Hancock, Bruce Nichols
Lawyers await cult decision
Attorneys cite `significant progress' in talks with sect leaders
WACO -- Two Houston lawyers who met in a marathon session with Branch Davidian cult leaders Thursday said they have done all they can do and it is now up to the cult members to end their standoff with federal agents.
Lawyers Dick DeGuerin and Jack B. Zimmermann said they were optimistic that the siege, in its 33rd day Thursday, would end peacefully -- and soon.
"We made some significant progress today,' Mr. DeGuerin said Thursday night as he and Mr. Zimmermann held an impromptu news briefing at the Hilton Hotel in Waco.
The attorneys had just left an eight-hour meeting inside the Branch Davidian compound with cult leader David Koresh and Steve Schneider, who is considered Mr. Koresh's chief lieutenant. The two and nearly 100 others have been holed up inside the compound since a Feb. 28 gunbattle with federal agents.
"We've done about all that a lawyer can do now,' Mr. DeGuerin said. "The next move is up to David and to Steven. I think they'll be making that move soon. I can't tell you how soon. But I'm very encouraged.'
Mr. Zimmermann said, "It's just a question of timing.'
Mr. DeGuerin, who represents Mr. Koresh, said he was leaving Waco for a hearing in another case in Beaumont on Friday. Mr. Zimmermann said he would wait for Mr. Schneider to call him.
Both lawyers said they expect to be present when their clients surrender. Mr. Zimmermann said Mr. Koresh and Mr. Schneider have indicated that they will call the lawyers when they reach a decision.
Thursday morning, federal officials expressed concern that Mr. Koresh may be using meetings with a Houston lawyer as a delaying tactic to allow his religious sect to stay inside their compound until Passover.
"It does appear he's frustrated,' FBI Agent Bob Ricks said of Mr. DeGuerin. Thursday was the first day that Mr. DeGuerin met with Mr. Koresh inside the compound.
"It does appear there's a certain stretching out,' said Agent Ricks, one of the FBI's chief spokesmen in the Waco standoff. "I think somewhere along this agenda that Passover is entering into the equation.'
By the group's calculations of the Jewish religious calendar, Agent Ricks said, they will begin celebrating Passover -- the Jewish observance marking their deliverance from slavery under the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt -- at sundown Tuesday. Their observance falls one day later than the traditional Jewish holy day, Agent Ricks said.
Federal officials say they have no clue of what special meaning the holy day could have in the 33-day siege, and how it might mark the end of the standoff. Agent Ricks said Mr. Koresh has mentioned Passover as a "key time,' but he said authorities don't know what that means.
Of the meeting at the compound Thursday, Mr. Zimmermann said, "I think we answered every question they had. I think they fully understand all the processes that would occur.
"It's now decision-making time for them. . . . They want to come out. This will be resolved peacefully. They are going to do it, and now it's just a question of timing. Mr. DeGuerin and I believe, and I think the FBI concurs, that it would be best if people had a chance to stop, rest, take a little bit of a break.'
The lawyers said they expected to be able to accompany their clients out of the compound when they surrender.
" . . . Part of the hesitation that's been encountered in the past,' said Mr. Zimmermann, "is assurance that they'll be treated humanely and with dignity, and I think that by Mr. Koresh being accompanied by Mr. DeGuerin and Mr. Schneider being accompanied by myself assures that that will happen.'
Mr. DeGuerin agreed.
"I think we both are very impressed with the religious belief of everybody in that place,' Mr. DeGuerin said. "They believe sincerely what they believe, whether anybody on the outside agrees with that or not.
"And the second thing is they all want the truth of what happened on Feb. 28 to come out, and the proper way for that to come out is in court. That's where Jack and I work, and that's what's going to happen.'
Mr. DeGuerin said the lawyers stayed in the compound through lunch, instead of taking a break, "because we were getting a lot done. We had a very pleasant lunch.'
Asked whether the addition of Mr. Zimmermann to the talks might signal a rift between Mr. Koresh and Mr. Schneider, Mr. DeGuerin said, "There's a potential conflict of interest any time there are multiple defendants, so it's generally presumed not proper for one lawyer to represent more than one client. . . . That doesn't mean there's a rift between two people or that there's a true conflict.'
Mr. Zimmermann had spoken with Mr. Schneider by telephone earlier in the week, but FBI officials initially said they would oppose a face-to-face meeting. However, they agreed to allow him to enter the compound Thursday after Mr. DeGuerin told them that providing separate counsel for Mr. Schneider might speed efforts to persuade the group to surrender.
Mr. DeGuerin said Mr. Koresh, who he described Wednesday as suffering from gunshot wounds, was "in much better physical condition today.'
The cult leader has told negotiators that he was shot in the side and in the wrist during a Feb. 28 firefight that left four ATF agents and an unknown number of Branch Davidians dead. The gunbattle erupted as ATF agents tried to serve warrants to arrest Mr. Koresh and search of the compound for illegal weapons.
Agent Ricks said any medical attention would be provided by authorities when the cult members come out of the compound.
"Our goal is not treat everybody in there and make them happy. Our goal is to get them out,' Agent Ricks said. "There is plenty of medical attention just a few hundred yards away, and that will all be provided when people come out of the compound.'
As talks continue, other lawyers has streamed into Waco with rival claims to represent Mr. Koresh.
Prominent San Francisco lawyer Melvin Belli said he had been retained to represent Mr. Koresh and asked that one of his associates be allowed into the compound.
Mr. Belli said he'd been retained by Mr. Koresh's grandmother, Jean Holub of Houston, and Florida lawyer Gary Hunt, to represent Mr. Koresh.
Richard Morse, an associate of Mr. Belli's, said Mr. Koresh earlier had given power of attorney to Mr. Hunt. Mr. Morse said Mr. Koresh conveyed that after Mr. Hunt offered his services on a radio program.
Mr. Koresh accepted the offer, Mr. Morse said, by "wiggling' a satellite dish in the compound, a pre-arranged signal to acknowledge the transaction.
FBI officials have said they will not allow the meetings between Mr. DeGuerin and Mr. Koresh to degenerate into a parade of lawyers into the compound.
"There's absolutely no obligation on our part to provide anyone in that compound with legal counsel,' Agent Ricks said. "We believe that providing the leaders and only the leaders with counsel will perhaps lead to the resolution of this issue.'
Thursday night, Mr. DeGuerin, who was retained about three weeks ago by Mr. Koresh's mother, Bonnie Haldeman of Chandler, Texas, declined to comment on Mr. Belli's involvement except to say "more power to him.'
Thursday, at the federal courthouse in Waco, Magistrate Dennis Green entered pleas of not guilty for Kathryn Schroeder, Kevin Whitecliff and Brad Branch, three cult members who left the compound and face criminal indictments of conspiracy to murder a federal agent and possessing a weapon during a crime of violence. The magistrate rejected arguments that they be freed pending trial.
Mr. Branch told reporters that Branch Davidian members in the McLennan County Jail are not eating the food because it does not meet their religious dietary standards.
He said they don't eat pork. He did not characterize his posture as a hunger strike, only saying that he had not eaten much in recent days. Jail spokesmen could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, ATF spokesman David Troy conducted a series of one-on-one media interviews Thursday aimed at quieting criticism by outside tactical experts that the agency's initial raid was ill-timed, ill-advised and poorly planned.
The interviews came on the eve of a scheduled appearance by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Director Stephen Higgins before a Senate appropriations subcommittee in Washington.
"The fact that didn't go off as planned doesn't necessarily indicate that we didn't have our act together. We know we were compromised,' Agent Troy said, referring to ATF assertions that the cult was warned about the raid in advance.
The agency has said that an undercover agent in the compound Feb. 28 overheard Mr. Koresh being summoned to a telephone call that, ATF said, turned out to be a tip alerting him of the raid.
ATF officials have said that the agent did not recognize the significance of the call -- or recognize the caller's name -- until days later.
Although Mr. Koresh returned from the call somewhat agitated and reciting Scripture, Agent Troy said, the agent was not alarmed because "that was normal behavior for this guy.'
"We've yet to find anything that conclusively indicates that the people who made the decisions (about the raid) ignored information or said, "Ah, to hell with it, we're going in anyway.' '
Texas Rangers are investigating the possible source of the tip.
Staff writer George Kuempel contributed to this report.