Davidians Present Appeals

Eleven Branch Davidians were tried on various charges related to their 1993 standoff with the U.S. federal government. They were tried and sentenced in 1994. Six convicted Davidians appealed.

On January 4, 1996, six Davidian attorneys argued their case before a panel of three circuit court judges in the New Orleans Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Davidians were not allowed to be present at the appeals.

The Davidians' attorneys argued several main points. They argued that the trial judge erred in not allowing self-defense as a defense to manslaughter, when self-defense was allowed for other charges (and used by the jury to find the defendants innocent). The "carrying a weapon during commission of violent crime" charge should be set aside because the defendants were found innocent of the violent crime. The trial court used sentencing guidelines for use of illegal weapons when only one defendant was convicted of such. Insufficient evidence exists to convict the defendants of the specific crimes of which they are accused.

In August 1996, the appeals court affirmed the Davidians' convictions, but allowed for some reduction in their sentences. The court ruled that Paul Fatta's conviction can be overturned if an unrelated case then pending decided that the federal government cannot ban or regulate automatic weapons. The court also ruled that one 10-year sentence and two 30-year sentences imposed for using an illegal weapon are invalid, and sent the case back to the original judge to determine whether the Davidians knew the weapons they were carrying were illegal.

The Davidians appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In April 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that they could not appeal until the judge handed down the final sentence, since the 10- and 30- year sentences had been invalidated. In September 1997, the judge re-imposed the same sentences. In June 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court set aside the long sentences, and in September 2000, the Davidians were resentenced to lower sentences.

Source: Updates by Carol Moore.