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Civil Suit Alleging Government Negligence During Branch Davidian Standoff Set to Begin

Aired June 19, 2000 - 2:06 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: A jury is being selected today in a federal civil lawsuit against the U.S. government stemming from the siege at Waco, Texas. Survivors of the FBI raid against the Branch Davidian compound are leading an effort to prove government negligence.

CNN's Tony Clark joins us from Waco -- Tony.

TONY CLARK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, it's been seven years since the standoff and fire at the Branch Davidian compound, about 10 miles outside of Waco, and still there are questions about the government's actions there: did it do too much; did it act too harshly, questions that may be answered here at the federal courthouse over the next few weeks,

Attorneys for both members of the Branch Davidians, relatives of those who were killed, as well as members of the U.S. Attorney's office arrived at the courthouse earlier this morning to begin what will likely be a month-long trial, they will be retelling again and again, in great detail what happened at Waco: the 51-day standoff; the raid by the ATF; as well as the final day, the key point, April 19. What happened that day, and what the government did, was that negligent?

Sherry Burgo's father was one of those Branch Davidians who was killed at Waco.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERRY BURGO, VICTIM'S DAUGHTER: I know they killed him and people, they were saying: Well, they should have came out. Well, I know that he was afraid to come out. It was either taking a chance on running out getting shot outside, or staying in and maybe possibly waiting it out, and as it turned by him staying in, he got overwhelmed by smoke and fire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CLARK: The jury in the civil case will be asked to answer four questions.

Whether the ATF shot indiscriminately during the initial raid in February 1993. Whether the FBI violated the Washington-approved plan by prematurely demolishing the Branch Davidians' building.

Whether the government bears some responsibility for the start and spread of the fire that consumed the building and left more than 80 people dead.

And whether the government is negligent by not having any plans to fight a fire at the compound should that happen.

Jury selection today and the judge in this case, Judge Walter Smith, told attorneys a short time ago he hopes to get opening statements today, the attorneys hope to put that off until tomorrow morning,

Tony Clark, CNN, Waco, Texas.

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