This article appeared in the July 22-28 edition of the Houston Press, a local news and ent
This article appeared in the July 22-28 edition of the
Houston Press, a local news and entertainment weekly. It
is an edited transcript of an interview by Houston Press
associate senior editor Steve McVicker with Dick DeGuerin,
David Koresh's lawyer. It took me several hours to type
in, so I hope you find it interesting and that I don't get
flamed excessively for posting such a long article.
John R. Kennedy
---------------------- begin article ----------------------
McVicker: When did you first hear about the initial failed
raid and how did you get involved?
DeGuerin: I first heard about it like most people did, the
evening of Sunday, February the 28th, on the news. It was
big news; four federal agents killed. I heard, of course,
that it was the ATF and I immediately suspected that they
were at fault, because I know the long history of the ATF
using excessive force, abusing their authority. I thought,
like I'm sure a lot of defense lawyers in Texas did, it's a
dream case to get involved in, and would present a lot of
challenge and a lot of problems to any lawyer attempting to
overcome the killing of four agents. But I had no real
specific indication I was going to get called until about a
McVicker: Koresh's mother called you?
DeGuerin: First call I got was from a lawyer [Kirk Lyons]
originally from Houston, who had referred a murder case to
me a couple years earlier. He was putting together a
defense team for a number of the Branch Davidians.... He
asked me if I would be interested in being on that defense
I told him no, but that if David Koresh were to call that
I would consider representing him.... He said, "We can't
get in touch with David Koresh, but we're in touch with his
mother." The next thing I knew I got a call from her....
She asked me if I would help. I said I would, but because
of the intense publicity going on I didn't want to be seen
as an ambulance chaser, and I wanted to make sure I had
authority from someone that had the authority to hire me.
So I got her to fax me a letter asking me to help her son.
With that, I went to Waco....
I didn't agree to take any money from her. She engaged
me as mothers or relatives of someone in trouble often
do... So far it's pro bono....
I hope to be able to write a book about it, sometime in
McVicker: Going back to the beginning--what do you think
was the one thing that made the ATF go in on that Sunday
DeGuerin: First, you have to understand that the ATF
stands for "Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms" and it is, in
essence, a tax agency. Their mandate began as revenuers.
Only late, 1968, did they take over responsibility for
policing and taxing the manufacture and sale of firearms.
So, they have a mandate and a right to investigate the
firearms business. The manner in which they did in this
case is a classic example of abuse and authority, and the
use of excessive force. They didn't have to do what they
did, the way they did. They were, early on, given
opportunities to peacefully inspect the Branch Davidian
community and to see all the firearms there and they
McVicker: Koresh had talked to ATF agents in the past and
invited them in?
DeGuerin: Through an intermediary, he invited them in, in
July of 1992--said if there's any problem with what we're
doing here, come on out and look at the guns, inspect them
and we'll show them to you. That was rejected by the
What they wanted to do was build a criminal case through
surreptitious means, rather than openly inspecting all the
guns. I guess you have to understand the Rambo mentality
to understand why these ATF agents and their supervisors
wanted to do that. But there were a lot of other factors
that were working there.
McVicker: Like budget-cutting at ATF?
DeGuerin: Exactly. They've got to justify their budget by
doing things the hard way. If they don't justify their
budget, then it gets cut. Now it's a given fact that in
January of 1993 the House Appropriations Committee notified
Stephen Higgins, head of the ATF, that he would have to
appear before that committee on March the tenth and then
and there have to justify his budget, his goals, his means
of training and so forth. That was another factor.
In the search warrant affidavit where the agent swears
out reasons for the judge to issue the search warrant,
there were a number of falsifications and number of facts
with- held that would have made a truly neutral magistrate
pause, and hesitate to issue the search warrant. For
instance, in the affidavit it mentioned that neighbors had
complained about hearing automatic gunfire. Well, that's
true. The neighbors had complained.... What the affidavit
failed to say was that those complaints of automatic
weapons fire had been investigated by the sheriff's office
and found not to be true.
There was some allegation of child abuse in the search
warrant. In the first place ATF doesn't have any mandate
or right to investigate child abuse. But what the search
warrant failed to say was that those child abuse
allegations had been thoroughly investigated by Children's
Protective Services and had been found baseless....
This isn't an isolated incident, the way the ATF
operates. You ask any criminal defense lawyer who's been
in the business long enough, and they'll tell you what the
reputation of the ATF is, across the country.
McVicker: What were your thoughts on your first trip to
the compound? What sort of instructions and what sort of
discussions did you have with the FBI?
DeGuerin: Well, first the FBI tried to scare me. They
said that I ought to wear a flak jacket and that they
weren't going to allow me to get any closer that the
outside fence, which was about 20 yards from the front
door. Said they didn't want me to end up being a hostage,
or didn't want those on the inside to shoot at me, or to
grab me and take me inside. I said that wasn't acceptable,
because I'd have to shout my conversations with my client
and I wanted a private conversation. They said they were
worried about my safety and I said I wasn't, because I was
on [the Davidians'] side. They're not going to hurt me.
I'm their ray of hope. So they had me sign a global
release, releasing the FBI and the Justice Department and
the entire United States government from any harm that
would come to me. [Laughs]
The next step was actually getting up there. They said
they would allow me to at least go to the front door and I
could sit there and converse with my client through the
door. They put me in the back of a tank and drove the tank
up to about a hundred yards of the front door and opened
the back door of the tank, frisked me very carefully, and
said, "Okay, son, you're on your own." So I walked around
the tank and up the next hundred yards to the front of the
[I] walked up and knocked on the front door. Steve
Schneider came to the front door and we stood there and
talked. Then Koresh came down and we talked for about two
McVicker: Did you go in during that first meeting?
DeGuerin: No. That first day, the rule set down for me by
the FBI was that I could only stand at the front door, and
if everything went okay maybe I could go in. Sure enough,
they didn't grab me or kidnap me. Actually, I thought I
was in more danger from some of those FBI snipers that were
ringing the place than I was [from] David. I was concerned
that if David showed his face a sniper might shoot at him
and hit me by accident.
McVicker: What did you make of the two of them during your
conversation that day?
DeGuerin: Steve Schneider was very friendly and glad to
see me. David Koresh was very glad to see me. Very
factual. We talked about the original raid and a little bit
about who I was. It was a get-acquainted kind of meeting.
He knew about me from [a Waco-related] case that I had
recently tried.... We got along very well.
McVicker: How was it decided that you would be allowed to
DeGuerin: After that evening, I met with the FBI agents
and told them that I would not tell them the content of our
discussions and would not report on the conditions on the
inside. I told them I would not be a spy for them or
reveal anything that my client told me, or that anybody
else told me, because as a lawyer you have a right to
interview witnesses and to keep that information
The FBI accepted that. I did tell them that I thought we
were making progress, that I thought when I fully explained
to David and the others what was facing them and my
thoughts that we could get a fair trial, and that we could
expose the ATF and their excessive force and law-breaking,
that we stood a chance of actually prevailing in court....
So by me telling them that I thought we were making
progress, they said if you think going inside would help,
we'll agree to that.
McVicker: How many meetings did you have?
DeGuerin: I went inside the building on four separate days
that week and then went back on Sunday and went inside.
McVicker: What sort of condition was the place in?
DeGuerin: Spartan. The Davidians had been building that
series of buildings for several years from the ground up.
They didn't have contractors or any outside help. They
were building it with scrap materials, so it was not the
best construction. But it was clean, pleasant and it was
Spartan.... It was damaged, in that almost every window
was shot out. They had sheets and pillow cases and trash
bags covering most of the windows. There was no
electricity, so they didn't have any electric lights. They
had Coleman lanterns in a lot of the rooms. They had food
and drink and water.
McVicker: Did most of your conversations deal with legal
matters or were they ever of a spiritual nature?
DeGuerin: Most of the conversations were factual or legal,
talking about conditions in jail, what to expect in the
coming months once we got into the criminal justice system.
There were some spiritual discussions and I asked for an
explanation of his spiritual position and what his beliefs
were. Didn't ask to be converted, but I wanted to get an
idea of how his beliefs impacted on what they were doing
then, how it might impact on the trial, and how
persecution, which they felt deeply, might play a part in
McVicker: Did Koresh believe he was God?
DeGuerin: No. Never said that he was. Nor did he ever
say he was the Son of God. Nor did he ever say he was
Jesus Christ. That's a perversion of what he said. It's
part of the government plan to demonize him and to make him
look ridiculous or evil.
McVicker: Was he aware of the monitoring devices that had
been sent into the compound with other items?
DeGuerin: They found most of them. They didn't find all
of them. Actually, I kind of hoped that some of them got
through and that the FBI was monitoring our conversations
because I didn't have anything except my memory and my
notes to rely on. I'd love to have a tape recording of all
those times we were in there. But what they told me was
that they had found listening devices in almost every
package the FBI sent in, and dismantled them.
McVicker: Did you ever feel like you were being used by
DeGuerin: I didn't feel I was being used in an evil way.
I knew we had parallel interests. To the extent the FBI
could use me to get David and the others to get into the
criminal justice system, I was certainly willing to offer
[myself] to do that. Because that's the same interest I
had. As his lawyer, I want him the criminal justice system
safely, without being killed.
McVicker: If he had been able to get into the legal
system, what do you think would have been the charges, and
the eventual outcome?
DeGuerin: The charges were clearly going to be, by the
time the original raid was over, conspiracy to kill federal
officers. That's what has been filed on several of the
survivors. Once the raid took place and four federal
agents died, then practically every able-bodied adult was
going to be charged with that. That's the way the
I don't think there would have been any evidence that
David Koresh held or fired a weapon during that entire
stand-off. So it would have been difficult for the
government to prove that he had anything to do with the
actual shooting of any of the agents.
I interviewed one of the Davidians who admitted to me
that he had shot several of the agents, and frankly, he had
a very good defense. Because they shot at him first and he
was simply shooting back at someone who had invaded his
home and was shooting at him. Now, the law is that you
don't have the right to resist the lawful execution of a
warrant. The way to contest a warrant is in court.
But you don't have to submit yourself to being killed. In
other words, if a warrant is being unlawfully executed by
the use of excessive force, you or I or anybody else has a
right to resist that unlawful force. If someone's trying
to kill you, even under the excuse that they have a
warrant, you have a right to defend yourself with deadly
force, and to kill that person. That would have been that
person's defense, and it would have been David's defense.
Conspiracy, on the other hand, makes everyone who's a
member of a conspiracy equally responsible under the law
for a criminal act. So that would have been the difficulty
with Koresh. The government would have claimed that David
Koresh either authorized or ordered [the others] to do his
That would have been difficult to prove also. Because
contrary to the government picture of this, this wasn't a
group of organized, militant religious fanatics. It was a
group of highly religious people. But they certainly
weren't very organized and there wasn't any kind of plan to
kill all the agents. It happened that the ATF stormed that
place with excessive force. Those on the inside with the
ability to fight back, did.
McVicker: Once they took over, did the FBI handle this like a
DeGuerin: They never revealed their rules of engagement or
their strategic plans to me.... What the FBI misinterpreted
was the willingness of the other people there to be there
and to stay there. It was their home. They felt
persecuted. They felt there was no justification in asking
them to give up their home, and it really was their home...
The search warrant doesn't say, "You are hereby
dispossessed of your home and all your worldly belongings
'til we decide you can have them back." It simply says
that the agents are allowed to go inside and to seek
evidence of wrongdoing.
As for how the FBI handled it, the FBI needs to be given
credit for pushing the ATF back, number one, and secondly,
maintaining a peace for 51 days. For 51 days not a soul
was hurt. There wasn't a shot fired.
I have some criticism of their tactics during that time
because they were using these horrible screech machines and
tearing up all the property around there and crushing the
kids' bicycles and tricycles and running over cars and
boats and trucks. I think that was counter-productive.
Seriously counter-productive--if the FBI wanted those on
the inside to rebel and come out, rebel against some kind
of leadership that was keeping them there....
What it had the effect of doing, even if they weren't
already bonded by their religion, is it bonded them
together. That's what the FBI was doing. They were giving
them resolve to resist more and more.
McVicker: Where were you on Day 51?
DeGuerin: I was in Denton, Texas. I was preparing to go
to trial in a [different case]. When I got back to the
hotel room from my morning run, I turned on the television
and there were the tanks rolling. I knew then it was going
to end today. I didn't know how. I didn't think it was
going to be good. I was very upset. I called the FBI and
said I'll be right down there, stop what you're doing. Let
me go back in there and see if I can bring them out now.
Looks like you're going to tear the building down. The FBI
agent said, "Well, we don't need you."
Nonetheless, I went to court ... and told the judge what
was happening and [that] I felt my presence in Waco was
necessary and that I might be able save some lives if I got
down there in time. The judge allowed me to leave, and I
was driving to Waco when the fire broke out. [At this
point in the interview, DeGuerin paused to rub his eyes with
McVicker: What did you do then?
DeGuerin: Kept coming. Wasn't much I could do. By the
time I got to Waco it had already burned to the ground.
McVicker: What were your thoughts when you heard about the
DeGuerin: I thought about what a tinderbox the place was.
It was made out of plywood and used lumber. There were hay
bales throughout the building used as blockades against the
wind and against the ATF from the outside. There were
Coleman lanterns that were being used for light. They had
some butane and propane heaters on the inside. They were
also using candles. What happened on April the 19th was
just a totally botched, totally mismanaged affair that
resulted, no matter how you cut it, in at least 80 deaths.
McVicker: According to Time, [Attorney General Janet] Reno
and the FBI didn't want to use water cannons on the
building because that might have compromised its structural
integrity [DeGuerin laughs], yet they punched holes in the
building with tanks.
DeGuerin: Frankly, I think Reno's whole decision-making
process was flawed because she got bad information. She
came out very strongly on the first day, saying that the
ultimate reason [for the assault] was the perceived danger
to the children. She was told that the children were in
increasing danger from abuse. Well first, I don't believe
it. But, secondly, I can't imagine a more abusive thing to
do to a young child than to force that young child to
undergo a tear-gassing. So for Janet Reno to say that she
gassed the children to save them from being abused is
Nothing had happened. No one was in any danger. They
were making progress on the task that David said was what
they wanted to complete before they came out, and that was
his interpretation of the Seven Seals.... If you'll recall,
the FBI said ... that it was just a ruse. There's proof
that they were doing that. [The disk containing work on
the interpretation] survived the fire.
Then, you simply couldn't have devised a worst day to do
it on, [during] 30- to 40-mile-an-hour winds. You don't
throw tear gas down in winds like that, and then make more
holes in the building so the breeze can come through
because that's going to disperse the gas. It also makes a
highly volatile fire situation.
When you look back at [FBI] stand-offs in the past, it's
amazing how many of them have ended in immolation. Look at
the Symbionese Liberation Army, look at Philadelphia, the
MOVE movement, up in Arkansas there was another one. The
chance of starting a fire was so great that if they didn't
adequately consider it, they should have.
McVicker: You don't think there's any chance that the fire
was intentionally set [by the Davidians]?
DeGuerin: Oh, I think there's a chance of it. But I don't
think it happened. That's not what the survivors have said
to me. That's not what they believe as to how the fire got
started. I mean, this was their home. It would take a
really twisted mind, and I don't think these people were
twisted. I think they had some unusual religious beliefs,
based on the Bible. They were very fervent about their
religion. But twisted enough to burn down everything they
had built up and lived with? I don't think so.
McVicker: You don't think Koresh was twisted?
DeGuerin: I think that he was very unusual. I think that
he had very strongly held beliefs. Twisted? I wouldn't
call him that. That's because I don't buy off on this
government line that he was a child molester.
McVicker: What about talk of mass suicide?
DeGuerin: Any of the surviving Branch Davidians will tell
you that that's something that's repugnant to them under
their religion. Suicide is repugnant. I just don't
believe that's what happened....
I think with another week or two the whole thing would
have been over without any further loss of life, and then
everybody would have been a hero. All the FBI had to do
was sit back and wait.
McVicker: There have been a lot of news stories recently
about Reno, like a campaign to enhance her image. Have you
made much of that?
DeGuerin: I'm very pleased that we have an Attorney
General, finally, after 12 years, who will accept
responsibility. But it's SO refreshing, it's such a SHOCK
to have that, that when she grabbed the blame for herself,
it deflected any other inquiry.... She said, "I'll take the
blame, but it's all Koresh's fault." [Laughs] Well,
that's not really taking the blame.
No matter what you believe [about who started the fire],
it happened because the FBI rolled the tanks and shot the
McVicker: Do you think Koresh deserves blame? He could
have let those children go, rather than them becoming pawns
in the whole thing.
DeGuerin: I don't think the children were really pawns.
They were used as much by the FBI as an excuse to go in as
they were used by Koresh.
The children were not being kept against the will of the
parents of the children. There were some children who were
sent out by their parents. The children who were still
there had their parents with them. The parents wanted them
to be there. So, I think it's a misstatement to say that
there was anyone there who was being kept against their
McVicker: Where are the [congressional] hearings?
DeGuerin: Well, that's a good question. It kind of
fizzled.... I got one call and never heard back from them.
I may have blown my chances with Senator [Dennis] DeConcini
when I told him I didn't think he could be fair. I doubt
if he'll call me to his committee.
McVicker: Why don't you think he could be fair?
DeGuerin: Well, he showed up on Larry King with a hand
grenade and a 50-caliber bullet to explain what had
happened in Waco--[yet] he wasn't there, as far as I can
recall. If he's supposed to be the judge and the jury in
the Senate hearing, he's already made up his mind....
McVicker: You talked briefly about possible suits. Where
do you stand as far as filing anything?
DeGuerin: [Koresh's mother and half-brother may] file a
suit. I will not be the lawyer on it. I think there
certainly will be lawsuits, filed by other survivors or by
... families of persons that were killed in the compound.
McVicker: I see that this week they closed the road to the
DeGuerin: Yeah. I thought they closed it in order to keep
there from being a memorial service over the July the
Fourth weekend. In fact, they threatened to do that. But
reason prevailed and they left it open for members of the
families of the Branch Davidians to have a service out
McVicker: Do you think people have missed the point on this
DeGuerin: Yeah--and here's how it happened. The government
has put its spin, and they're very good at that, on the
Branch Davidians and David Koresh. They've painted him out
to be a monster. Because it's much easier for the general
public to accept, than [that] the fuck-ups of the U.S.
government are why he's dead right now.
It's much easier to accept a military force invading a
private home if the person in the private home is an evil
person. It's much easier to accept that our government
surrounded these people with tanks and then destroyed their
home and killed them all, if they're different from you and
me. That's what happened.
[Even] if David Koresh was having sex with children and
was a religious nut, it doesn't justify the government
violating the Constitution.
McVicker: How do you feel about the role the media played?
DeGuerin: If the media hadn't been there, the abuse by the
government probably would have been much worse. As it is,
the fact that the media were there in force, probably kept
them alive for 51 days.
On the other hand, I've got some real problems with
reporters simply trucking over to the FBI briefing every
morning at 10:30 and then regurgitating what they hear.
Without fact-checking. Without back-checking. Without
doing some digging. A few people did. And a few people
got out the word that not all was what the government said
A few people did their jobs. And since the briefing only
lasted an hour a day, that left 23 other hours that that
vast media apparatus could have been out really digging and
getting to the bottom of all this.
----------------------- end article -----------------------
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank