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Cult Leader's Lawyer Enters Besieged Compound : Standoff: The face-to-face talks with Houston attorney raise hopes that monthlong stalemate may end soon.

March 31, 1993|J. MICHAEL KENNEDY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WACO, Tex. — The lawyer for David Koresh met with the cult leader inside his armed compound Tuesday in an effort to persuade him to end the monthlong standoff with federal agents.

The meeting was the first time anyone trying to end the siege has had a face-to-face discussion with Koresh, the 33-year-old leader of 100 men, women and children who have barricaded themselves in a rural compound east of here. The standoff began on Feb. 28 when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents tried to raid the compound to execute a search warrant. Four agents were killed in a hail of gunfire, and 16 agents were wounded.

Federal agents said Tuesday was the third day that Houston criminal lawyer Dick DeGuerin has had contact with Koresh--first on Sunday over the telephone and then in person both Monday and Tuesday. Even federal officials who had blocked DeGuerin's attempts to talk to Koresh a month ago seemed to feel there was cause for hope as a result of the meetings.

"I think it's progress that I have been allowed to meet with my client and tell him that the court will treat him fairly," DeGuerin said Tuesday. "I am hopeful that it will end soon."

The news that DeGuerin was talking to Koresh came late Monday night when he was identified as the man who had driven to the compound on a motorcycle, took a chair outside and talked to Koresh for about two hours through a door.

The discussions continued Tuesday morning, this time with DeGuerin going into the compound. FBI spokesman Bob Ricks said federal officials advised DeGuerin not to go inside because of the fear he could become a hostage. But DeGuerin opted to go in anyway.

Ricks said in a Tuesday morning news conference that he "believed events have reached a point where a face-to-face meeting with counsel might resolve some final hurdles." He also said that none of the talks between the two men was being taped or monitored in any way.

But Ricks said DeGuerin's negotiating period was not unlimited, especially if it became obvious Koresh was stalling.

Though DeGuerin was tight-lipped on Tuesday, he has been very vocal about his opinion that the cult members, including Koresh, could be defended and perhaps even acquitted.

In an interview late last week, DeGuerin said a number of issues would have to be examined, including the scope of the search warrant and whether the judge who issued it understood the scale of the operation. He said the massive use of force by the ATF went against the grain of how warrants are usually served.

"Serving search warrants happens thousands of times a day all across the country, and it doesn't happen with big assault teams behind them," he said. DeGuerin also contended that possessing illegal weapons, though a federal offense, has most often been treated as a routine type of case.

"Possessing illegal weapons is certainly not earth-shattering," he said. "Thousands of illegal weapons charges wend their way through the courts each day."

Also Tuesday, three cult members who had already left the compound were indicted on charges of conspiracy to murder federal agents and possession of firearms. Named in the indictments were Branch Davidian members Kathryn Schroeder, Brad Branch and Kevin Whitecliff.

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