Sarah Bain's Letter to District Court Judge Walter S. Smith, Jr.
Dear Judge Smith:
Following the "erroneous" action on Count Three [use of firearms in commission of a crime] by the jury in the trial of the eleven Branch Davidians, it is with some chagrin that I ask the Court to consider some of our discussions as the Court determines the sentencing for the defendants involved in Count Three and also Count Two.
Generally, I feel that it is necessary to address the jury's considerations in bringing guilty verdicts, and specifically, I feel it is necessary to address our deliberations on the involvement of certain defendants.
The jury asked the Court for clarification of what seemed to be a discrepancy in the use of "and" and "or" in Charge Three as it pertains to "using and carrying" versus "using or carrying firearms. . ." The Court advised that the Government would have proven its case if it proved beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant had "used or carried a firearm . . ." With those instructions we found seven of the defendants guilty.
At the time, the jury questioned among ourselves how sentencing could be carried out fairly since there surely must be a more serious penalty for "using" as opposed to "carrying" a firearm, and since we were not charged to identify which defendants, if any, should be found guilty of actually "using" the firearms. To each other, we voiced our desires that perhaps the simple act of "carrying" a firearm might serve to diminish the penalty associated with "using a firearm.
I now understand that the "sentencing guidelines" stipulate a penalty of from five to thirty years in prison. I am incredulous!
Since the crime that the "carrying/using" took place was that of aiding and abetting a voluntary manslaughter and not conspiracy to murder or aiding and abetting murder (all defendants were found not guilty of these charges), there surely must be a different set of sentencing guidelines that can be followed. After we had delivered our verdict to the Court and prior to its being presented to the public, we jurors discussed what most of us felt was the possibility that with the consideration of time already served by the defendants, none would be facing severe penalties. Even five years is to severe a penalty for what we believed to be a minor charge. All of us agreed that Kathryn Schroeder probably would be serving a lesser charge if she had remained a part of the case!
Specifically, I am most concerned with the sentences that are facing two defendants on Count Three and five defendants on Count Two (part two).
Regarding Count Three and the charges faced by Ruth Ottman Riddle and Graem Leonard Craddock:
Graem Craddock was found guilty of Count Three for only one reason: For Count Seven, it had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he had been in possession of a hand grenade. But further in Count Eight, it was proven that he was not guilty of conspiracy to posses such a device. However, since "carrying a firearm . . ." created a guilty verdict in Count Three, we felt we had no choice but to find him guilty in Count Three. We even discussed whether or not this was not a type of double jeopardy -- not of being tried twice for the same crime but of being punished twice for the same crime: possession of a hand grenade. Again, we felt we had no choice.
In the case of Ruth Ottman Riddle, we debated whether "carrying" was to be taken literally, as "moving around transporting a firearm"; or whether it was to be taken figuratively, as "being, even briefly, in possession of a firearm." We were in agreement that Ruth Riddle had, upon her request, retrieved a "long gun" (rifle? shotgun?) from under her bed and had passed it downstairs. It is unfathomable that for this act she is facing even five years, much less thirty years, in prison. Are there no other sentencing guidelines that can be brought to bear? If we had interpreted "carrying" literally, she would be totally free since there was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that she even walked to the window of her room while in possession of a firearm!
For these two individuals I beg the Court's utmost leniency.
Further, on Count Two (part two): the five individuals found guilty: Brad Eugene Branch, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Jaime Castillo, Livingston Fagan, and Renos Avraam, were not found guilty of voluntary manslaughter but of aiding and abetting voluntary manslaughter. I implore the Court to recognize that the jury never believed these individuals themselves committed the crime of voluntary manslaughter. Further, we did believe, and the charge to the jury gave credence to the belief that aiding and abetting was "a lesser charge.''
For these five individuals, I beg the Court's utmost leniency.
Finally, regarding what was deemed an error on the part of the jury: finding certain defendants guilty on Count Three after having found all defendants not guilty of Count One [conspiracy to murder federal agents]: In our defense I submit that we determined that certain defendants did "use and (?) carry a firearm during and in relation to the commission of a crime of violence which may be prosecuted in a court of the United States." We further interpreted the following portion of that statement, "to wit: conspiracy to murder federal agents," to mean "for example, conspiracy to murder federal agents" -- with "conspiracy to murder" being but one example of a crime that could be prosecuted in a federal court. On that basis, we began our deliberations on Count Three. We certainly had no knowledge that the penalty for a guilty verdict would be tied to a conspiracy charge as alleged in Count One!
On a more personal note: I cannot explain the honor and responsibility I felt when I was chosen to serve on this jury. It was the most intense forty-eight days (my thoughts did not take a break on weekends and holidays!) of my life. If justice is served in the end, I and my fellow jurors did our duty. It is now in the Court's hands to assure that our intentions are not belied.
Sincerely, Sarah L. Bain Juror #16, Foreman Branch Davidian Trial