NAPLES, Idaho – Federal murder charges were filed Sunday against a Spokane man who has taken refuge in a mountaintop cabin with a fugitive who is far more notorious.
Kevin Harris, 24, who ran away from his Spokane home as a teenager and became indoctrinated with white separatist beliefs of Randy Weaver, is charged with Friday’s killing of a federal officer.
Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan, 42, of Boston, was gunned down by a single bullet Friday just a few hundred yards from Weaver’s citadel.
FBI supervisor Gene Glenn and Idaho U.S. Marshal Michael Johnson said Sunday the federal charge against Harris, which carries the death penalty, was filed after interviewing the five other deputy marshals who were with Degan on the mountain. Two of the marshals escaped after the shooting, while the other three were pinned down by gunfire for about eight hours.
The federal officials, who summoned reporters behind a roadblock on Ruby Creek Road for the first press briefing since the incident began at midday Friday, wouldn’t say whether Weaver also would be charged in Degan’s death.
Word of the murder charge brought immediate tears to Harris’ mother, Barb Pierce, and his stepfather, Brian Pierce, a paralegal for the Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
“He’s got to be scared to death,” Barb Pierce said after placing flowers on the ground at the roadblock. The bouquet immediately was squashed by a military Humvee driver who sped past the barricade.
The mother pleaded for a chance to talk with her son on the phone, but there has been no communication between the cabin and authorities.
“I’m numb,” she said.
The Pierces were among more than three dozen people who have gathered near the roadblock. Most have expressed support for Weaver and hostility for the federal, state and local officers encamped nearby.
At sundown Sunday, about 200 officers equipped with modern police and military gadgets still were at a standoff with Weaver and Harris.
There were reports of shots fired from the armed camp at agents and a helicopter. Glenn refused to confirm the gunfire exchange, but U.S. Marshals Service spokeswoman Joyce McDonald in Washington, D.C., said shots were exchanged about 11:30 p.m. Saturday, apparently without injury.
Occupants of the cabin refused to answer an FBI telephone delivered to Weaver’s doorstep by “a vehicle,” according to Glenn.
“We have had interaction with people in the residence,” Glenn said, refusing to confirm the gunfire exchanged.
“We’ve got all the resources we need to do the job,” Glenn said. He would not disclose how many officers are in position around Weaver’s cabin. The FBI is using a light helicopter for surveillance; several military helicopters are standing by.
“Our purpose is to effect the arrest or surrender” of Weaver and Harris, Glenn said.
But prominent in the agents’ planning is the safety of Weaver’s four children – including an 8-month-old girl born in the cabin – and his wife, Vicki. Both are believed to be in the cabin.
Vicki Weaver faces no charges at this time.
In October 1989, Randy Weaver allegedly sold two sawed-off 12-gauge shotguns to a federal informant. He was indicted more than a year later on charges of possessing illegal firearms.
It was another year before U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and Boundary County Sheriff Bruce Whittaker could catch Weaver. He and his wife were arrested when they left the cabin for supplies in January 1991.
But Weaver was released the next day, and he and his family haven’t left the cabin since, federal marshals said. He missed his court date in February, 1991, when marshals began watching his cabin.
Glenn – who supervises FBI operations in Utah, Idaho and Montana – stressed that any assault would involve more than just the FBI’s elite hostage rescue team and negotiators. Other agencies participating in the siege include the U.S. Marshals Service Special Operations Group, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Idaho state and county police agencies.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. Marshal’s No. 2 commander, Duke Smith, puffed a cigar and swigged coffee outside a Circle K convenience store near the National Guard Armory in Bonners Ferry.
“All I can tell you is we’re taking it slowly and cautiously. We don’t want anyone else hurt,” said an unshowered, unshaven Smith.
The cabin is about three miles up Ruby Creek Road, not far from peaks in the Selkirk Mountains which were dusted with snow over the weekend.
“It’s a craggy area with very rough terrain,” Glenn said. “The cloud cover, terrain and weather these past few days have had the tendency to slow everything down.”
The rain and military equipment created a bog on the road to Weaver’s mountain, but the agents tried to cure that with two dump truck loads of gravel, heavy timbers and heavy equipment.
As local contractors trucked in those supplies, they were greeted by hostile chants of their own neighbors, who accused the contractors of selling out to federal agents.
“We’re going to remember this,” one of the drivers was told.
It was clear from Glenn and Johnson that authorities wanted to end the standoff peacefully and quickly.
“We are anxious to resolve this situation, but our primary purpose is to do it without harm to anyone,” Glenn said.
“Because he (Weaver) has a wife and kids up there, the Marshal Service has taken every step to ensure that this arrest will be effected safely,” Johnson said.
“We are prepared to address an arsenal,” Glenn said. “I hope it’s over today, but it could be several days.”
The top federal officials called the press briefing out of earshot of at least three dozen Weaver sympathizers – ranging from a few skinheads and Aryan Nations members to neighbors who believe the federal agents are finishing the final act of a setup.
Their anger seems to grow by the day. Only a few residents have criticized the protesters.
“It’s sickening,” said resident Ken Grover. “There are a number of us who don’t want anything to do with it (protests). It’s not helping the situation. It’s antagonizing the situation.”
Three people were arrested at the roadblock Saturday and Sunday, including Harris’ stepfather, who goes to court today in Bonners Ferry on misdemeanor charges of discretely conduct and obstructing an officer.
Pierce was arrested late Saturday after walking under a police ribbon in a vain attempt to see his son.
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