Branch Davidians Seek Legal Advice in Waco Standoff

LAWYERS for members of a besieged religious sect are preparing for trial in anticipation that the 48-day armed standoff with federal authorities will end soon.

Four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were killed in a Feb. 28 shootout with the Branch Davidian cult, after trying to to serve arrest and search warrants on weapons charges. The cult says six of its members were killed.

Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and 95 followers will surrender after religious scholars have studied an interpretation that Mr. Koresh is writing of the "seven seals" mentioned in the Bible's book of Revelations, according to Dick DeGuerin, a Houston lawyer who is representing Koresh.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has allowed Mr. DeGuerin to have face-to-face and telephone communication with Koresh.

In an interview, DeGuerin defended having access to his client even before Koresh has been taken into custody and cited cases in which a person learns that charges will be filed against him and calls a lawyer before being apprehended.

Neil Cogan, associate dean of the Southern Methodist University School of Law, notes that in standoff situations, deals are sometimes struck regarding the charges that will be filed or regarding other conditions. Koresh, for instance, may demand the right to communicate freely with followers and the news media. But dragging out the siege could work against the sect if the judge or jury has discretion over the length of sentence imposed, Mr. Cogan adds.

DeGuerin said, however, that he only advises Koresh of his options. The lawyer does not negotiate with the FBI. Nor would he counsel Koresh to destroy evidence; giving such advice would be a criminal act, DeGuerin said.

DeGuerin did not know whether state or federal charges will be filed. Murder of a law agent is a capital offense in Texas. Federal law has no death penalty.

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