Six Branch Davidians will soon be released
Some convicted remain defiant 13 years after the deadly standoff
WACO – Thirteen years after the Branch Davidians’ armed standoff with federal agents ended in an inferno that killed nearly 80 people, six sect members who were sent to prison are about to be released from custody.
Most of those who will be freed in the next two months escaped from the compound near Waco as it burned to the ground April 19, 1993 — 51 days after a shootout that erupted when federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents tried to arrest religious leader David Koresh for stockpiling guns and explosives.
The six men went to federal prison for manslaughter, weapons offenses or both in connection with the Feb. 28 shootout, which left four federal agents and six Davidians dead.
Once the men are out, they will be under supervised release for three to five years. Among other things, they will be barred from associating with one another.
A seventh jailed Davidian is not scheduled for release until next year.
Paul Gordon Fatta, who is to be released next month in San Diego, remains angry about the government’s actions. He was at a gun show in Austin during the ATF raid and was not at the compound during the standoff.
"They needed their pound of flesh, so they took the survivors and put them on trial. Somebody had to pay," Fatta, 48, told the Associated Press by phone. "They just want it to go away, and they hope people will forget as time passes. But it’s going to be with me the rest of my life."
Koresh and nearly 80 followers, including 24 children, died in a blaze that survivors say was ignited by tear gas sprayed into the compound buildings from military tanks. Authorities say the Davidians committed suicide by setting the fire and shooting themselves.
Starting life anew
Jaime Castillo, who is to be released next month from a Los Angeles halfway house, said he plans to remain there and try to rebuild his life by forming another band — which is how he met Koresh in 1988 — or by working as a personal trainer. He said he might someday visit the compound site, where a few survivors still meet for Bible study each weekend.
"For me, I don’t think it could ever be re-created," said Castillo, 37. "They study and reflect on teachings. I could do that by myself; I don’t need somebody to tell me that. I’ve always been an individual."
In 1994 in San Antonio, 11 Davidians went on trial; all were acquitted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges. However, five were convicted of voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges and three were convicted on weapons charges.
A 12th Davidian — Kathryn Schroeder — was indicted and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for testifying against the others; she was sentenced to three years in prison and was released in 1996.
The federal judge sentenced most to 40 years but in 2000 reduced most terms to 15 years after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his decision. One of the eight was sentenced to five years on a weapons charge and got out in 1997.
A different outcome?
Jane McKeehan of Johnson City, Tenn., whose 28-year-old son Todd McKeehan was one of the ATF agents killed, said she and her family have tried to focus on their son and not think too much about the Davidians.
"It is in our minds every day; it completely changes your life," McKeehan said. "We’re Christians, and we know we’re going to see Todd again, so we try to focus on the good. He was doing what he wanted to do and was adamant about making it a better world."
While in prison, Castillo, who maintains that he didn’t shoot any agents during the raid, said he has thought a lot about the events on the Central Texas prairie 13 years ago. He wishes Koresh had surrendered with the entire group — 21 children and 14 adults did leave during the standoff — although Castillo says he believes that Koresh felt he was following God’s will.
"Certain things change. You have to re-evaluate, and now you think, ‘Dave probably shouldn’t have done this,’ " Castillo said. "But if I start questioning this, what’s the point now? It’s the past. It’s not going to benefit anyone now."
‘It’s pretty unfair’
Fatta, who moved to a halfway house, said he has enjoyed seeing his family more. But Fatta said "it’s pretty unfair" that he won’t be allowed to see his co-defendants.
"I’m proud of my friends, and it was a privilege for me to have gone there to study the Bible, regardless of what the world thinks," Fatta said. "If I had it to do all over again, I would do the same thing. Did I like going to prison? No. Did I like my friends being murdered by federal agents? No. If you look at history, people take a stand for what they believe in, and they’re misunderstood."