Weaver's Lawyers Say Warrant Was Invalid -- Court Clerk Testifies That Suspect Was Given Wrong Date

BOISE, Idaho - The defense in the murder-conspiracy trial of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris continues to hammer away at the criminal charges that led to a bloody shootout and an 11-day siege at Weaver's Idaho cabin.

The Aug. 21. shootout started when federal officers were trying to arrest Weaver on a weapons charge and charge that he failed to appear in court. One federal marshal died in that shootout.

In the eighth day of trial yesterday in U.S. District Court here, defense attorneys continued to question the validity of the failure-to-appear count.

Weaver and Harris are accused of murdering Deputy Marshal William Degan, Quincy, Mass., in the initial shootout. Weaver's 14-year-old son Samuel also died in that firefight, and Vicki Weaver, 42, was killed by a sniper's bullet the next day.

A court clerk testified he advised U.S. District Judge Harold Ryan that Weaver was given the wrong court date, before Ryan issued a warrant for Weaver's failure to appear.

But under further questioning by Prosecutor Ronald Howen, clerk Ronald Haberman was less definite.

"I'm saying I communicated that to judge Ryan," Haberman told Howen. "But I'm not sure when or how."

Ryan signed the warrant that set in motion events leading to the violent confrontation.

Earlier, federal probation officer Karl Richins admitted that while court officials advised him that Weaver should appear for trial on Feb. 20, 1991, he mistakenly told Weaver the date was March 20, 1991.

The government obtained a Feb. 20, 1991, fugitive warrant for Weaver.

But late in the day, prosecutors used the testimony of U.S. Attorney Maurice Ellsworth to support their claim that the Weavers had long conspired to force an armed confrontation with federal agents.

Ellsworth quoted a letter sent to him just before the trial was scheduled and signed by Weaver's wife as saying, "Whether we live or whether we die, we will not bow to your evil commandments."

Laced with phrases like "war is open upon the land," and "the tyrants' blood will flow," the letter was interpreted by Ellsworth as a threat, he testified. The Weavers have been associated with the Christian Identity Movement, which combines Old Testament and white-separatist views. He turned the letter over to federal investigators.

But the investigating marshal, William Mays, said he told Ellsworth he did not find the letter threatening.

Spence said Weaver's wife was merely complaining about the unfair treatment of her husband. And he objected to the prosecution's attempt to link a letter from Vicki Weaver to her husband.