Two deputy U.S. marshals told a Senate panel Friday they believe Randy Weaver accidentally shot and killed his 14-year-old son during the gunbattle at Ruby Ridge.
The government’s forensic expert at Weaver’s trial in Boise said Deputy Marshal Larry Cooper likely fired the bullet that hit Samuel Weaver in the back.
But Cooper told senators that he fired two bursts from his rifle, then saw the Weaver boy running away.
“I did not fire at Samuel Weaver,” Cooper testified. “I very strongly believe that none of the rounds that I fired…struck Samuel Weaver, because I saw him running up the right fork … after I fired my second, and last, three-round burst.”
In response to questions, Cooper later said, “In my opinion, I believe Randall Weaver shot his son accidentally in the back.”
Weaver last week told the Senate subcommittee that he didn’t fire his gun during the initial confrontation with marshals, in which his son and Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan were killed.
An FBI sniper shot and killed Weaver’s wife, Vicki, the following day at the family’s North Idaho cabin.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told reporters after the hearing that he was very surprised by the contention that Weaver shot his son. “I think it requires further investigation,” Specter said. “It’s a very important matter.”
While the marshals’ theory is plausible, the former U.S. attorney for Idaho told senators Friday he can’t back it up because of sloppy evidence work and poor cooperation by the FBI.
Maurice Ellsworth, now a Boise attorney, told the panel that he believes the federal murder prosecution of Weaver and his friend Kevin Harris fell apart because of the “institutional arrogance” of the FBI.
Friday marked the sixth day of hearings by the Judiciary subcommittee into the Ruby Ridge siege.
The five marshals who were with Degan when he was killed testified with an enlarged photograph of Degan next to the witness table.
The shooting erupted Aug. 21, 1992, at the intersection of two old logging roads know as the “Y” below Weaver’s North Idaho cabin.
Weaver was wanted for failing to appear in court on charges of selling two sawed-off shotguns to a federal informer.
The marshals testified they went to the remote area near Weaver’s cabin to conduct a surveillance mission. They said that they had no intention of arresting Weaver or provoking a confrontation, but wanted to determine who was at the cabin.
The gun fight broke out after Weaver’s dog detected the marshals and began barking.
Cooper said that Harris fired the first shot, killing Degan.
Deputy Marshal Arthur D. Roderick said he then shot the dog, Striker, as it came at him. That angered the Weaver boy, who swore at the marshals and ran back toward the cabin.
“We believe that Mr. Randall Weaver accidentally shot Sammy Weaver in the back,” Roderick testified.
When Ellsworth came before the committee, the former chief federal prosecutor in Idaho blasted the FBI’s handling of the case.
“From the outset of this case, there was a total lack of cooperation from the FBI,” Ellsworth said.
“Why is that?” Specter asked.
“I don’t know,” Ellsworth responded.
He said federal prosecutors wanted to learn why senior FBI officials changed the shooting rules at Ruby Ridge. The FBI refused to tell them and top FBI officials refused to meet with prosecutors.
The witnesses said only three shell casings from Harris’ gun and two from Samuel Weaver’s weapon were recovered, along with 13 spent casings from marshals’ rifles.
The marshals said they believe many more rounds were fired by Weaver and Harris.
“If we sent experts up there today, I think they’d still find shell casings in the woods,” Roderick said.
Degan’s widow, Karen, who lives in Quincy, Mass., attended Friday’s hearing but chose not to testify. Instead, she had Specter read a letter she wrote to him.
She recalled that her late husband’s assignment to arrest Weaver was to be his last field assignment before getting a desk job.
Karen Degan recalled him telling her, “No one’s going to get killed. That’s why we’re going. But this is probably the most dangerous guy I have ever had to deal with.”
She also mentioned the $3.1 million the federal government recently paid the Weaver family and asked what kind of message that gives her fatherless children.
“As it stands right now, the message is that this is a topsy-turvy world where those who defy the law are somehow transformed into heroes and martyrs and those who work to enforce the law are labeled ‘trained killers,”’ she said.
“I hope you will reinterpret that message,” she wrote.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: FRIDAY’S HEARINGS Two deputy U.S. marshals said they believe Randy Weaver accidentally shot and killed his own son at Ruby Ridge. Weaver maintains he only fired his gun into the air in anger after his son was killed. Karen Degan, the widow of slain Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan, told the Senate subcommittee in a letter that her husband and his team have been described in “terms that are incredibly inaccurate and unfair.” Maurice Ellsworth, the former U.S. attorney for Idaho, blasted the FBI’s handling of the Weaver case, complaining of sloppy evidence work and poor cooperation with prosecutors. Quote of the Day: “I suspect Randall Weaver recognizes in his heart that he is responsible for Samuel Weaver’s death. That is a tragedy, and a terrible cross for Randall Weaver to bear.” - Deputy U.S. Marshal Larry Cooper