The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Diane Jennings, John Yearwood

Koresh's lawyer voices optimism

WACO -- After spending six hours with leaders of the Branch Davidian cult Sunday, attorneys said they are optimistic for a peaceful end to the 5-week-old siege pending the sect's observance of Passover.

"We are more convinced than ever that this is going to end peacefully, and we are more convinced than ever about the depth of their devotion to their religion,' said Dick DeGuerin, attorney for cult leader David Koresh.

Mr. DeGuerin and Jack Zimmermann, attorney for cult member Steve Schneider, met unexpectedly with their clients. Ending the siege, Mr. DeGuerin said, hinges upon the cult's observance of Passover, which begins at sundown Monday.

The attorneys had previously said they would return only when their clients were ready to surrender. They requested the additional meeting in order to pass on information from scholars about religious holidays, said FBI Special Agent Bob Ricks.

Passover, the religious holiday commemorating the biblical liberation of the Jews from Egypt, is the highest holy day in the cult's faith, Agent Ricks said.

"Right now they believe that there is a higher law they must follow,' Mr. Zimmerman told reporters after leaving the compound. "I think it's pretty clear that were we not on the eve of Passover, they'd be out by now.'

The standoff began Feb. 28 after a battle between cult members and federal agents trying to serve warrants on the compound. Four agents and an unknown number of cult members were killed.

As Passover approaches, Agent Ricks also indicated renewed concerns about a violent resolution.

Mr. Koresh has told his followers that as the Lamb of God, "he has to be slain,' Agent Ricks said. "And . . . a sufficient number of martyrs, those of his followers, also have to be slain before there is a complete fulfillment of the prophecy.'

The attorneys discounted those fears.

"There is not going to be a violent end, at least as far as David is concerned,' said Mr. DeGuerin. "There's not going to be anybody hurt. They're ready for this to be over, but they have a very important agenda. Their agenda is the observance of Passover.'

Complicating the issue is the fact that Branch Davidians have been known to celebrate for a week or more, he said. The Jewish holiday lasts eight days. The attorneys say they know when the cult's observation starts, but they are unsure how long it will last.

Though authorities and attorneys had agreed that the lawyers' discussions with their clients had been completed, Agent Ricks said negotiators have not set a limit on ending such talks.

"We are very flexible on this whole process,' he said. As long as attorneys appear to be making progress toward ending the standoff, "we're not going to put on a time restriction. We don't want the FBI to be perceived as a roadblock in getting this thing over with.'

Despite Mr. DeGuerin's prediction of a peaceful end to the siege, federal officials are prepared for a violent resolution.

"What we have done is try to do everything in our power to prohibit that,' Agent Ricks said.

The attorneys said they are willing to wait and hold more meetings if necessary. Mr. DeGuerin returned to Houston, where he said he expects to receive a call from Mr. Koresh after Passover.

Mr. DeGuerin said Mr. Koresh will need hospitalization for wounds suffered in the raid, but he disclosed no details.

Shortly after the attorneys finished Sunday's talks, a man whom federal authorities identified as Jesse Amen left the compound, the first to depart since March 23. He was turned over to Texas state agents and taken to the McLennan County Jail, said Jerry Singer, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Mr. Amen broke through the cordon of law officers and entered the cult compound east of Waco on March 26.

At a news briefing Sunday, authorities made public a list of 16 children remaining in the compound, ranging from 1 to 15 years old. The list also included three women, ages 17, 18 and 23, who agents said "have borne children of Dave Koresh while teen-agers.'