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Monday, September 18, 2006

UNCP professor’s book sheds light on death in Waco

More than a decade ago, UNC Pembroke criminal justice professor Dr. Fran Haga Fuller stepped into the middle of one of the biggest news events of our time, the 51-day siege and deaths of 76 Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993.

Fran FullerThe results of her research are contained in the new book, “Invisible Action: Proof vs. Possibility, Habeas Corpus, and Waco” (2006, Southern Pines, NC: Carolinas Press, $32.00 includes shipping and handling). Dr. Fuller will discuss her book Wednesday, October 18 at 10 a.m. in the Main Reading Room of Sampson-Livermore Library at UNCP.

The story and the story within the story of Dr. Fuller’s research and the years that followed are worth telling. It’s about being a social scientist and telling the truth.

“In 1994, I had a new degree and a goal to investigate the investigation to figure out what really happened,” Dr. Fuller said. “I was told a social scientist could never get at the truth. I just said, ‘what?’”

Dr. Fuller’s research in “Invisible Action” came up on the national radar in 1994, the year she was hired to teach criminal justice.

“I agreed to go to Washington in the summer of ’95 for the hearings as an independent investigator,” Dr. Fuller said. “The NRA (National Rifle Association) paid my expenses, but I remained independent.”

Dr. Fuller said the heat surrounding upcoming Congressional hearings finally held in 1995, reflected the intensity of the fire that consumed David Koresh and his Branch Davidian followers. Among the victims of the failed attempt to storm the compound were 17 children under the age of seven.

“The story was these people killed themselves,” she said. “The ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) showed up in the beginning because of suspected gun law violations, but the story was they had to go in because of the children.”

Invisible Action cover

What was clear to Dr. Fuller was that the “rules of engagement” for law enforcement changed on April 19, 1993, and she wanted to know why. The book, which is packed with autopsy photos, diagrams and other graphics, is about that evidence.

Dr. Fuller’s role leading up to the Washington hearings was to learn more about the child abuse allegations. The state records were sealed by court order, blocking the professor’s chance for easy answers.

“So, I was in charge of contacting Joyce Sparks, a social worker who investigated claims of child abuse in Waco including sexual abuse,” Dr. Fuller said. “She had been vilified in the press for failure to protect those children.”

Dr. Fuller’s attempts to contact the social worker were surprisingly successful, but the atmosphere turned poisonous just as quickly.

“They threatened me with legal action.  I watched other academics and experts back off under the same pressure, knowing that what happened to me could happen to them,” she said. “I held still and waited for things cool down.”

In preparation for the hearings, Dr. Fuller was able to obtain additional evidence, including the autopsy reports and vivid color photos of the crime scene.  She was able to make sure that all the investigators, including the congressional committee had equal access to this data.  In the ensuing years she quietly continued her research.

“Invisible Action” contains the autopsies and memos between Sparks and Dr. Fuller. In a recent interview, Dr. Fuller offered that in the final assault on the Branch Davidians federal authorities overrode the protests of both the social worker and the state of Texas.

Readers will have to draw their own conclusions after reading the book. Dr. Fuller concluded that the crime scene was intentionally destroyed by federal law enforcement in order to wipe away evidence.

“I could not have published this 10 years ago,” Dr. Fuller said. “Among other things, the autopsy photos where too graphic, but today Court TV and other media have changed that.”

A tenured professor, Dr. Fuller continues to teach and conduct research. Publication of “Invisible Action” closes the book on the case for her. Despite the years, she said she felt compelled to publish.

“If I didn’t publish my research, then it would be like saying nothing happened – that my scholarship didn’t happen,” she said. “Without the final report, known as the scholarly artifact, research is little more than a side-line hobby.”

Copies of “Invisible Action” may be ordered through any bookstore, including the UNCP Bookstore. It is also available from the publisher at karo1942@alltel.net.

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