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Senators Accuse FBI Snipers of Obscuring Truth About Shootings

September 15, 1995 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senators accused eight FBI snipers lined up in front of them Thursday of obscuring the truth about events leading up to the killing of the wife of white separatist Randy Weaver at the family’s Idaho cabin.

The snipers, who were at Ruby Ridge during the August 1992 tragedy, testified to the Senate subcommittee that they heard a woman’s screams, then silence after a member of their team fired a shot that killed Vicki Weaver.

Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Sen Herbert Kohl of Wisconsin, its senior Democrat, questioned whether the shot that killed Mrs. Weaver should have been fired at all.


Specter also accused the snipers of ``giving erroneous information to a lot of people″ by saying there was a threat of harm from the Weaver family sufficient to justify shooting Mrs. Weaver.

Specter noted that the FBI sniper fired the shot as Weaver and family friend Kevin Harris were fleeing into their mountainside cabin.

The snipers defended firing the shot, saying they had feared members of the Weaver family would shoot at an FBI helicopter flying overheard.

In a departure from FBI policy, rules of engagement were rewritten for the Ruby Ridge standoff to say that snipers ``could and should″ fire at any armed adult male.

Sniper Mark Tilton said that as part of their briefing before they went up the mountain, the sharpshooters were told that Mrs. Weaver was ``just as dangerous″ as her husband.

Before the skeptical senators, the snipers maintained that they disregarded the revised rules and instead followed the standard FBI policy of firing only when there is immediate danger of death or serious injury.

Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., told the sharpshooters: ``Your supervisors gave you these (revived) instructions. ... You’re all trying to avoid the clear truth that you were told″ to shoot at armed adult men.

``I would encourage you to just tell it like it is, don’t try to shade it,″ Thompson said. ``All of this fits pretty neatly with the party line that’s coming out of the FBI right now.″

The snipers, who had been stationed hundreds of yards from the Weaver family’s cabin, said it had been a cloudy day and none of them had seen Mrs. Weaver standing behind the cabin door as FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi fired the shot that killed her.

Horiuchi _ who invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refused to testify Tuesday _ has said previously that he was aiming at an armed man fleeing into the cabin and hit Mrs. Weaver by mistake.

The sniper closest to Horiuchi, Dale Monroe, said he saw two men _ Weaver and Harris _ running into the cabin when Horiuchi fired his gun.

``I heard a ... shot ... and heard an adult female’s voice screaming hysterically,″ recounted sharpshooter Christopher Curran. ``That only lasted a few short moments and after that there was silence. I heard nothing further.″ The bullet severed an artery, killing Mrs. Weaver.

Assuming the standard policy was in effect of firing only in the face of immediate danger, ``explain the justification for Horiuchi’s shot″ at the two armed men fleeing into the cabin, demanded Specter.

He pointed out that a Justice Department task force had found the firing of the second shot was not justified.

``I am in complete disagreement with that,″ replied Monroe.

``We knew there was a propensity″ for violence, said Monroe. ``They had already exhibited that″ with the death the previous day of deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan, who was killed in a shootout with Harris and the Weavers’ 14-year-old son, Sam. Sam Weaver also died in the shootout.

An FBI helicopter was flying nearby and ``the threat was heightened with the individuals inside the cabin,″ Monroe said. He said Weaver and Harris could fire from the protection of the cabin.

``I believe″ the shot was justified ``as long as the helicopter is airborne and contains individuals that could be harmed,″ said Monroe.

Of concern to the Senate panel was that some of the snipers distanced themselves from their earlier statements about Ruby Ridge.

Reading from the record of a previous investigation, Kohl pointed out that FBI sniper Edward Wenger said a year after the standoff that ``I was to use deadly force″ at Ruby Ridge if he saw any armed adult male.

``I don’t remember saying that,″ Wenger replied. Wenger insisted he understood that he ``could″ fire, but wasn’t required to.