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Media barred from Waco reenactment

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         TEXAS         Secret Courts         Mar 15, 2000    

Media barred from Waco reenactment

  • A federal judge has denied the media access to a reenactment of the government siege at the Branch Davidian compound, calling it a pre-trial procedure to which there is no right of access.

Saying that a reenactment of the siege of the compound in Waco is equivalent to a pretrial review of a crime scene, the judge presiding over the lawsuit filed by the members of the Branch Davidian organization has refused to allow the media access to the field test.

U.S. District Judge Walter Smith in Waco denied the media’s request March 10. Smith ordered the field test to review portions of the 1993 government siege to see whether government agents fired gunshots and explosives into the Waco compound.

“The court has determined that the media have identified no constitutional or common-law right that would entitle [the media] access to this procedure,” Smith wrote in his order. “Pre-trial matters are not public components of a civil trial.” Smith stated that the test “may be likened to a crime scene, which unquestionably may be closed to the public and the press in order to preserve the integrity of the evidence.”

The Associated Press, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had filed a motion with the court claiming that the public would be served by opening up the field test to the media. A closed test “will only increase the public’s skepticism about whether all the facts surrounding the Branch Davidian raid have been completely and accurately disclosed.” The Waco Tribune-Herald had also requested public access to the test, according to the Associated Press.

Retired Sen. John Danforth, who was appointed special counsel by Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate the government’s conduct during the Waco siege, had argued against media attendance in a motion. “The quickest way to discredit an investigation is to provide the media with selective information during its course,” Danforth’s motion said.

Neither government lawyers nor lawyers for the Branch Davidians opposed the media’s request.

The reenactment comes on the heels of the government’s continued denial that government officials fired any shots on the compound at the conclusion of the 51-day siege on April 19, 1993. Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and 80 followers died during the fire that followed the FBI’s attempts to flush the people out of the compound.

(Media Counsel: John Gerhart, Dallas)

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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