(AP) - A federal appeals court rejected an attempt by survivors to
collect damages from the government for the deadly 1993
confrontation outside Waco, Texas, between federal agents and
members of the Branch Davidian cult.
Without dissent, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals late Monday turned aside contentions that a lower
court judge who ruled against the survivors was biased.
Scores of Branch Davidian members, including leader David Koresh,
were killed in 1993 when government agents stormed their compound
after a weekslong standoff. Survivors have been pursuing a wrongful
death claim for years.
In September 2000 in Waco, U.S. District Judge Walter Smith
rejected their lawsuit, backing the government contention that
agents did not use excessive force in their tear gas assault on the
compound. Smith found the Davidians themselves set the fire that
killed nearly 80 men, women and children.
The appeal before the 5th Circuit basically dealt with one
question: Was Smith biased against the Davidians because of remarks
he made during the trial and his past relationships with government
"We conclude that appellants' allegations do not reflect conduct
that would cause a reasonable observer to question Judge Smith's
impartiality," Chief 5th Circuit Judge Edith Jones wrote for the
Attorneys for the survivors did not immediate return calls
seeking comment Tuesday morning.
The Davidians had argued that Smith's comments on and off the
bench showed "deep-seated antagonism" and "preconceptions" about the
group, whose beliefs encompassed fierce hostility toward the
As an example, the survivors said Smith had called one Branch
Davidian follower "crazy" and a murderer.
But government attorneys said Smith "displayed patience and
diligence wading through enormously complicated legal and factual
On Feb. 28, 1993, federal agents stormed the Branch Davidian
compound looking for stockpiled automatic weapons and hand grenades.
Four federal agents and three Davidians were killed in the clash.
For 51 days, the government attempted to get cult followers to
leave the compound. On April 19, agents fired tear gas rounds into
the compound and fire destroyed it.