FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi did kill Vicki Weaver, shooting her once in the head during the Ruby Ridge standoff in 1992, a judge said Tuesday.
The only question, the judge said, is whether Horiuchi was careless when he squeezed off the fatal shot - a shot intended for white separatist Randy Weaver’s friend, Kevin Harris.
Magistrate Quentin Harden will not decide Horiuchi must stand trial for Vicki Weaver’s death unless he is convinced the sharpshooter acted recklessly.
“The issue is: “Was it done in a reckless or negligent manner?” Harden said at Horiuchi’s preliminary hearing. “The court is not ready to address that.”
Boundary County Prosecutor Denise Woodbury has charged Horiuchi with involuntary manslaughter.
Woodbury said Tuesday she would consider changing the charge to murder if the FBI agent does not stand trial for manslaughter.
Horiuchi appeared in a Boundary County courtroom for the first time Tuesday, dressed in a suit and tie, at times donning reading glasses. He was closely guarded by other federal agents.
Horiuchi dodged media all day, not wanting his photograph taken. He was brought into the courthouse before it opened and whisked out at closing time with a coat over his head.
The 11-day standoff at Ruby Ridge, which left three people dead, began when Weaver refused to appear in court on a weapons charge. Along with Weaver’s wife, agents shot and killed Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Sam. Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan also died in the gunbattle.
Despite Tuesday’s four-hour hearing and testimony from Weaver - his first since the standoff with federal agents - the judge said he needed more information to make a ruling. He postponed his decision until after Dec. 29.
Adam Hoffinger, one of a team of lawyers hired by the Justice Department to defend Horiuchi, said the sniper was specially trained. Even though his shot accidentally killed Vicki Weaver, he was not careless when he fired.
Vicki Weaver was standing behind the cabin door when she was shot. The door had a window in it that was partially covered by a curtain and the sniper never saw her, Hoffinger said.
“There hasn’t been any proof in any way that he was reckless,” Hoffinger said. “It’s not a gross negligence case. It’s not like shooting into a crowd.”
Woodbury pounced on Hoffinger’s statement. The FBI considered Weaver’s children hostages, yet Horiuchi fired into a cabin where Weaver’s three daughters and wife were, she said.
“This was like shooting into a crowd. There was a family in the house and that shows reckless disregard,” Woodbury said.
Weaver described how his wife was shot while she held their baby daughter, Elisheba. Defense lawyers suggested the Weavers made up the story about Vicki holding her daughter to make the incident more gruesome.
Weaver said that was ludicrous. He pulled Elisheba out from under Vicki, whose face was partly gone from the bullet that passed through her head, he said.
“The baby was there. I pulled her out and she had blood and jaw bone in her hair,” Weaver said after the hearing. “I believe he (Horiuchi) had orders to take Vicki out.”
Vicki Weaver was holding the cabin door open for her husband, daughter Sara and Harris. The three were running into the home after Horiuchi fired one shot that wounded Randy Weaver.
Horiuchi had orders to shoot any armed male adult outside the cabin. The agent was called to testify by Woodbury Tuesday. Horiuchi’s lawyers refused, saying he could not be forced to testify against himself.
So Woodbury had a transcript of Horiuchi’s testimony in a 1993 federal trail admitted as evidence instead.
In that trial, Weaver and Harris were acquitted of Marshal Degan’s murder.
In the court transcript, Horiuchi admitted firing the shot that killed Vicki Weaver, but said it was an accident. His shot was intended for Harris.
Horiuchi’s lawyers tried to paint the Weavers as anti-government radicals, prepared to wage a war against federal agents. Hoffinger quizzed Sara Weaver about swastikas she drew on her calendar and an offensive phrase she jotted on Martin Luther King’s birthday.
The judge stopped much of the questioning, saying it was not relevant to the case.
The Justice Department has requested that the case be tried in a federal court. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge is scheduled to hear arguments on moving the trial from state court on Jan. 12 in Boise.
If Horiuchi is not ordered to stand trial for the killing, Woodbury said she may file a murder charge against him.
“I would encourage Woodbury to up the charges to murder,” Randy Weaver said. “Normal citizens are held accountable when they break the law. I was. (Horiuchi) should be accountable like the rest of us.”
It’s important for the case to go to a jury, Weaver said, so his family can put the Ruby Ridge saga to rest. “It’s not only important for our family to see some justice but for the country. Like my Grampa Weaver used to say: ‘The government is like a garden. You have to weed it every now and then.”’
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