THE RANDY WEAVER CASE
Another Federal Fiasco!
BATF's entrapment of Randy Weaver led to
the violent deaths of three people. Says his
defense attorney, Gerry Spence: "What
happened to Randy Weaver can happen to
anybody in this country."
BY JIM OLIVER
Seeing his dog, Striker, shot to death by masked intruders clad in
camouflage, Sammy Weaver, 14, fired back in fear for his life. The
4 ft., 11"-tall youngster was hit in the arm, then shot in the back as
he turned to run for home. He died instantly, killed by an agent of the
Cradling her 10-month-old daughter in her arms, Vicki Weaver stood
in the doorway of her home, mourning her slain son, unaware that she
herself had only seconds to live. In an instant a bullet tore into Vicki
Weaver's face, blew through her jaw and severed her carotid artery.
The bullet was fired from 200 yds. away by an agent of the federal
What had the Weaver family done to bring FBI snipers and submachine-
gun-toting U.S. marshals to the woods around their cabin on Ruby Ridge
in northern Idaho? Why did the government act as though the Weavers
had forfeited the protections guaranteed all Americans by the United
States Constitution? Who made the decisions that led to their
unjustified deaths and also to the death of deputy U.S. Marshall William
For the six men working near Weaver's plywood cabin on Ruby Ridge,
Aug. 21, 1992, was another day on a job that had been going on more
than 16 months. Their employer, the U.S. government, was spending
$13,000 a week, and there had been no end in sight to the work.
The cabin--really a shack--was home to 44-year old former Green
Beret Randy Weaver and his family--wife, Vicki; son, Sammy; and
daughters, Sara, Rachel and Elisheba. It was also home to their young
friend, Kevin Harris. They were subsistence hunters, and tended a
garden, putting up vegetables. A generator produced occasional
electricity. They had no TV, no radio.
This day there were some new men on the job site not far from the
cabin--one, 42-year-old William Degan, had been brought to northern
Idaho on special orders. He was to help plan a successful conclusion
to the job.
The men in the woods were dressed in their work clothes--camouflage
commando outfits complete with masks. They carried the tools of
their trade--two-way radios rigged for quiet operation, night vision
equipment, semi-automatic handguns, fully automatic military rifles
and at least one silenced HK submachine gun. One of the men was a
medic, prepared to care for any casualties.
The weaver family had dogs. Somebody threw a rock to test their
reaction. A golden retriever barked near the cabin and came running
their way. A mission somebody in the Marshal Service had dubbed
"Operation Northern Exposure" was about to end.
The "op" had included use of jet reconnaissance overflights with
aerial photographic analysis by the Defense Mapping Agency, and
placement of high-resolution video equipment recording activity by
the Weaver family from sites 1 1/2 miles away--160 hours worth
of tape used.
For nearly a year and a half, federal agents had roamed the area,
picking locations for surveillance and for snipers. Degan, belonged
to the Special Operations Group, the Marshals' national SWAT team.
The six on-site this day were deputy U.S. Marshals.
The target of all of this--and of a Federal law enforcement and
prosecution effort that would eventually total approximately $3
million--was Randy Weaver. What kind of criminal was he to
demand this kind of attention? Was he a major drug dealer?
Serial killer? Was he a terrorist bomber?
No. On Oct. 24, 1989, Weaver sold two shotguns whose barrels
arguably measured 1/4 inch less than the 18 inch length determined
arbitrarily by Congress to be legal. The H&R single-barrel 12-ga.
and Remington pump were sold to a good friend who instructed
Weaver to shorten the barrels. The "good friend" was an undercover
informant working for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms
(BATF), who later told reporters he was in it "mainly for the
Eight months after he sold the shotguns, Weaver was approached
by two BATF agents with an offer--spy on the Aryan Nations, a
white supremacist hate group head-quartered in northern Idaho,
or go to jail. Weaver refused to become a government informer,
and--six months later--he was indicted on the shotgun charge.
On Jan. 17, 1991, as Weaver and his wife were driving to town
for supplies, they encountered a pickup truck-camper with its
hood up, a man and woman seeming to be in trouble. The Weavers
stopped to offer their help. A horde of federal agents piled out
of the camper. A pistol was pressed against Weaver's neck. Vicki
Weaver was thrown to the slushy ground.
Weaver was arraigned before a federal magistrate, who later
admitted he cited the wrong law. Out on bond, Weaver went back
to his cabin. According to friends who testified in court, he and
his wife vowed not to have any more dealings with the courts of
the federal government. They would just stay on their mountain.
A hearing was set on the shotgun matter for Federal Court in
Moscow, Idaho. The government notified Weaver by letter that
he was to appear March 20, 1991. The actual hearing was held
February 20--one month earlier. The error in dates was enough
to give rise to a memo within the Marshal Service saying the case
would be a washout. (Weaver did not show for the wrong date,
either.) U.S. Attorney Ron Howen went to the grand jury anyway,
and Weaver was indicted for failure to appear.
But why had the BATF picked Randy Weaver to set up as an
informer? He was a man devoted to family, a man with no criminal
record, a veteran who served his country with honor. It was Weaver's
beliefs that made him an ideal target. His unorthodox religious
and political views were far outside mainstream America. He
was a white separatist. And, Randy Weaver was little, a nobody.
Over the next 16 months, the feds painted Weaver as racist, as
anti-semitic, as a criminal. But they had to entrap him into his
only crime, altering two guns. The media were unquestioning. In
print and on TV and radio, Weaver's home--the plywood shack he
built himself--became a "mountain fortress," and then "a bunker,"
and a stronghold protected by a cache of 15 weapons and ammunition
capable of piercing armored personnel carriers."
The common shotguns Weaver sold became the chosen "weapons of
drug dealers and terrorists" or "gangster weapons" that "have no
sporting use." The media always added the universal out... "agents
said." But there were no gangsters. There were no terrorists or
drug dealers, just Weaver, the gun buyer and the government.
It was all a lie. Hate-hype. People believed it, maybe even the
agents who planted the hate-hype began to believe it. It all ceased
to matter on August 21, when Striker barked and sniffed out the
agents spying on the cabin--lives changed, lives ended.
Nobody, except the people who were there, knows exactly what
happened next. There were several versions of the story. But some
facts jibe. Randy Weaver's little boy, Sammy--a kid whose voice
hadn't yet changed--and Kevin Harris followed Striker. Harris and
Weaver later said they thought the dog was chasing a deer. Harris
carried a bolt-action hunting rifle. The boy also had a gun.
Without warning a federal agent fired a burst into Striker, killing
him. (It came out in court later that there had been a plan to take
the dog "out of the equation.") The boy, frightened, shot back, and
when one of the agents fired another burst, Sammy lay dead.
Kevin Harris shot deputy William Degan in the chest. He died a
few moments later. The shooting ended relatively quickly. The
agents would claim Harris fired first. Harris claimed he fired after
the boy was shot. Agents told the media their men had been pinned
down for eight hours. It was a lie.
The dog was dead. The boy was dead. Deputy Degan was dead. Two
American families had tragically lost loved-ones. During the night
hours, Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris brought the little boy's body
to a shed near the cabin and washed it.
Deputy Degan's shooting brought in the FBI. Soon, the Weaver
property was ringed by a huge force of FBI, BATF, U.S. Marshals,
Idaho state police and local law enforcement and Idaho National
Among the federal law enforcement commanders was Richard
Rogers, the head of the FBI's hostage rescue team, which includes
its snipers. On the flight out, he took an extraordinary step--he
decided to alter radically the prescribed rules of engagement of
Normally, agents can only shoot when they are facing death or
grievous harm. But 11 snipers that were positioned around the
Weaver cabin were given new ordrs:
"If any adult in the compound is observed with a weapon after
the surrender announcement is made, deadly force can and should
be employed to neutralize the individual." This meant Randy Weaver's
wife would be fair game. It went on:
"If any adult male is observed with a weapon prior to the
announcement, deadly force can and should be employed if the shot
can be taken without endangering the children."
Of words reminiscent of hollow justifications used in Waco, Texas,
federal spokesmen kept telling the media of their concern for the
children. In fact, Gene Glenn, the agent in charge of the siege, told
The New York Times he considered the kids to be hostages. Yet they'd
already killed one child.
The negotiators were not in place, and no effort had been made to
contact the Weavers, when Randy Weaver, Kevin Harris--armed--
and 16-year-old Sara Weaver left the cabin and moved to the shed
where Sam's body lay.
As the three reached the shed, an FBI sniper some 200 yds. away
aimed at Weaver. He told the court he was aiming for the spine,
just below the neck. He missed; shot Weaver in the back of the arm,
the bullet exiting through the armpit.
Sara later told Spokesman Review staff writer Jess Walter in a
"I ran up to my dad and tried to shield him and pushed him toward
the house. If they were going to shoot someone, I was going to make
them shoot a kid."
At the cabin, Vicki Weaver was waiting at the door, holding her
infant daughter, Elisheba. The sniper fired again. His bullet hit
Vicki Weaver. She was dead before the baby hit the floor,
miraculously unhurt. Harris was hit by bullet fragments and bone
from Vicki's skull. He was bleeding badly. Randy Weaver, daughters
Sara and 10-year-old Rachel all saw the violent death.
Later, sniper Lon Horiuchi stated in court that killing Vicki Weaver
had been a mistake; that he was aiming for Kevin Harris. Defense
attorney Spence asked him, "You wanted to kill him, didn't you?"
He answered, "Yes, sir."
Sara Weaver recounted the night following her mother's death.
Again from reporter Jess Walter's story:
"Elisheba cried during the night. She was saying, 'Mama, mama,
mama.'... Dad was crying and saying, 'I know baby. I know baby. Your
She told Walters that on Sunday, they tried to yell at federal agents
and get their attention, to tell them that her mother was dead. She
said they got no resopnse. Instead they would her the FBI negotiators.
"They'd come on real late at night and say, 'Come out and talk to us,
Mrs. Weaver. How's the baby, Mrs. Weaver,' in a real smart-alecky
voice. Or they'd say, 'Good morning, Randall. How'd you sleep? We're
having pancakes. What are you having?"
The FBI later claimed it had no idea that its sniper had shot Vicki
Weaver. Yet a New York Times stringer quoted FBI sources as saying
they were "using a listening device that allow(ed) them to hear
conversations, and even the baby's cries in the cabin." Another lie?
On Thursday, August 27, radio newsman Paul Harvey used his noon
broadcast to reach the Weavers, who he'd learned were regular
listeners. Urging Randy Weaver to surrender, Harvey said,
prophetically, "Randy, you'll have a much better chance with a jury
of understanding homefolks than you could ever have with any kind
of shoot-out with 200 frustrated lawmen."
As part of their efforts to make contact with the Weavers, the FBI
sent a robot with a telephone to the cabin. But the robot also had
a shotgun pointed at the door, so the Weavers feared that reaching
for the phone could result in death or injury.
Somewhere in all of this, the FBI discovered the body of Sammy.
They told the news media they didn't know he'd been killed.
The siege began to unravel six days after Vicki Weaver had been
killed. Her body remained in the kitchen of the cabin all that time.
Sara crawled around her to get food and water for her family. It
was during this time that Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris dictated
their version of their story to Sara. In this letter, Weaver accused
his government of murdering his wife.
The news media, based on information from the feds, repeatedly
reported that Vicki had been killed in "an exchange of fire" or in
a "gun battle." More spin control.
The only shots were two--from the government's sniper.
Kevin Harris was the first person to come out. Sunday, August 30,
badly wounded, he was rushed to a Spokane hospital where he was
treated and charged with murder. A magistrate told him he was
facing the death penalty.
The rest of the family came out on the next day. The surrender was
negotiated--not by the FBI--but by Bo Gritz, former Green Beret hero.
All the lies and federal spin control over the story were about to
end. The case was going to court.
The 36-day trial took place in the U.S. District Court in Boise, with
Judge Edward Lodge presiding. The jury of eight women and four men
heard the government put on 56 witnesses. The defense rested
without calling a single witness, confident that the government had
destroyed its own case. They were right.
The jury deliberated for nearly three weeks, and found Harris not
guilty of murder or any other charges leveled against him. They
found Weaver not guilty of eight federal felony counts. The judge
had earlier thrown out two other counts.
Weaver was found guilty of two counts: failing to appear in court
and violating his bail conditions. He was declared not guilty of the
gun charge--the seed of all this misery.
It was a bizarre trial, full of contradictions, with government
witnesses countering each other's stories as to the events of
August 21, and countering the events leading up to Vicki Weaver's
death the next day.
The question of who fired first--Harris or the Marshals--was key
to the jury deciding on the murder charge against Harris. In the end
they believed Kevin Harris acted in self-defense. Earlier, the death
penalty had been ruled out. The law the prosecution cited had been
struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court two decades before.
The government spent days going over the Weavers' religious views,
trying to establish they were racist and demonstrated a long-lived
conspiracy to violently confront the government. The jury didn't
Marshall service witnesses told about a series of pre-siege scenarios
to root Weaver out of his cabin. But when pressed by the defense,
they said they never considered simply knocking on the door and
During the trial, the government admitted that the FBI had tampered
with the evidence; that the crime scene photos given the defense
were phony reenactments. Physical evidence had been removed and
replaced. The prosecutor knew this and had failed to tell the defense.
The prosecution also withheld documents that might have helped
the defense. When ordered by the judge to produce them immediately,
the FBI sent the material from Washington, D.C., via Fourth Class mail,
which took two weeks to cross the country. For prosecutorial
misconduct, the judge ordered the government to pay part of the
defense attorneys' fees, an action almost unheard of in a criminal
case. Prosecutor Hoiwen also was forced to apologize in open court.
At the end of the trial, he collapsed in the middle of a statement,
telling the judge, "I can't go on."
Gerry Spence told the jury, "This is a murder case, but the people
who committed the murder are not here in court."
After the trial, Spence told The New York Times, "A jury today has
said that you can't kill somebody just because you wear badges,
then cover those homicides by prosecuting the innocent.
What are we going to do now about the deaths of Vicki Weaver, a
mother who was killed with a baby in her arms, and Sammy Weaver,
a boy who was shot in the back?"
Spence has asked the Boundary County, Idaho, prosecutor to bring
charges against various federal agents. Should that happen, lingering
questions about the Weaver case finally may be answered. Should
that happen another jury undoubtedly will serve notice to those
who have forgotten that the United States government is supposed to
serve its citizens, not entrap them, not defame them, not falsify
evidence against them and absolutely not kill their children.