The Ruby Ridge (Randy Weaver) Trial: An Account
by Douglas O. Linder (2010)
The Weaver family in 1989
In the 1980s, the mountainous panhandle of northern Idaho became a magnet for right-wingers of all stripes. Government-haters, minority-haters, immigrant-haters, and modern culture-haters all found refuge in the sparsely-populated ponderosa country. In his book Ruby Ridge: The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family, Jess Walter describes Idaho's northernmost county, Boundary County, as a place where "a blurring continuum of home schoolers, Christian survivalists, apocalyptic, John Birchers, Posse Comitatus members, constitutionalists, tax protesters, Identity Christians, and neo-Nazis" could find both one another and "a ridge top on which to hide out and build a life." One family that in 1983 found its way from the heartland of Iowa to an Idaho ridge top was the Randy and Vicki Weaver family. Before long, things just got out of hand--hopelessly and tragically out of hand.
Life in Iowa
Vicki Jordison and Randall ("Pete") Weaver began dating in earnest in 1970. The self-reliant secretary for Sears Roebuck, raised on a farm near Coalville, and the idealistic army private met in Fort Dodge almost every night during Weaver's short leave from Fort Bragg. Randy and Vicki married in November 1971, after Weaver received an honorable discharge, and the couple moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa, where Randy intended to enroll at the University of Northern Iowa and pursue a career in law enforcement. The job in law enforcement never happened. But Randy landed a well-paying job at a John Deere tractor factory in Waterloo and he and Vicki settled into a several year period of happy, and quite normal, domesticity. When their first child, Sara, was born in 1976, Vicki entered enthusiastically into motherhood.
In 1978, Vicki read a book that began what would be a long-term drift toward a Christianity-based apocalyptic view of the world. Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth applied his interpretation of the prophesies of the Old Testament to the events of current times and concluded that we were now in "the end time." A nuclear holocaust and Armageddon were just around the corner, but the good news was that Jesus would return to Earth. Violence and pestilence soon would fall upon the planet, and Christians persecuted, in a terrible time called The Great Tribulation. Then there would be The Rapture, and true believers selected by God to join him in Paradise. Vicki and Randy began to share with friends their plan of moving to a mountain top, as far as possible from false governments, desperate people, and hunters of good Christians like themselves. "We've been having this vision," Vicki would say.
Vicki's search for "the truth" led her into libraries and bookstores. She read and found significance in books such as Ayn's Rand's Atlas Shrugged, a novel warning of the dangers of an all-powerful state, and in the prophetic short stories of H. G. Wells, which dwelled on themes such as Armageddon and Judgment Day. She and Randy began meeting regularly with like-minded radical Christians at the Cedar Falls Sambo's restaurant. Vicki poured over passages from her King James Bible, drawing lessons ranging from what to eat (no unclean meat such as pork or oysters) to how to prepare for the "end time." In Matthew 24 she encountered the passage which reinforced her vision of their future: "Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains."
Vicki and Randy were slipping further and further away from mainstream life. They adopted a conspiratorial world view that linked Jews to the Illuminati, Masons, and the Trilateral Commission. Randy began sleeping in a flak jacket with a loaded gun under his pillow. In an interview with a reporter for a Waterloo paper, they said they planned to build a house in the woods with a defensible 300-yard "kill zone" around its perimeter. They became increasingly isolated, as their radical beliefs caused them to lose former friends. In 1983, the couple left Iowa for good, with Randy driving a moving van and Vicki following behind in a pickup truck, heading west to meet the end time in the mountains.
Trouble in Idaho
Weaver cabin on Ruby Ridge
On September 6, 1983, Randy and Vicki found a rocky bluff about eight miles southwest of Bonner's Ferry that was, according to Vicki, "just what the Lord showed" them their new home "would look like." The hilltop was strewn with boulders, perfect for defending the property, and there was a spring with fresh water that could be tapped for their future cabin. They paid $7500 for fifteen acres and began making plans for a rough cabin.
Within a year of their arrival, the Weavers had made both friends and enemies. Randy befriended a number of locals who shared his racist and religious views, but those same views, as well as property disputes and his habit of constantly firing off bullets into the surrounding hillside set some other neighbors against him. One upset neighbor reported to the Boundary County sheriff that Randy had threatened to kill President Reagan and the governor of Idaho, and soon Weaver was the focus of unwelcome attention from federal law enforcement officials. Randy called the report of his alleged threat "a smear campaign" and sent a letter to the Secret Service agent who interviewed him demanding an apology.
In the mid-1980s, a racist right-wing movement based in northern Idaho and calling itself Aryan Nations became the focus of both FBI and BATF investigations. Members of an Aryan Nations splinter group called The Order embarked on a crime spree that included bank and armored car robberies, counterfeiting, synagogue bombings, and two murders, including the killing of a popular Jewish radio talk show host in Denver, Alan Berg. Indictments and prosecutions followed, but bombings continued and the federal government was determined to find those responsible. When Randy Weaver showed up at the Aryan Nations Congress in Hayden Lake in July 1986, the fact was noticed by a BATF informant who was also in attendance at the gathering.
After his introduction at the World Aryan Congress, informant Kenneth Fadeley, using the alias "Gus Magisono," met several times with Weaver over the next three years. In October 1989, after a conversation in which Randy foresaw an imminent war with the Soviet Union and complained for the umpteenth time about the "world going down the tubes," the two men discussed a deal in which the hard-up Weaver would sell Fadeley sawed-off shot guns. (Fadeley claimed Weaver proposed the deal, while Randy insisted it was the other way around.) Two weeks later at a city park, Weaver presented Fadeley with two shot-guns sawed five inches shorter than federal law allowed.
In June 1990, two ATF agents told Weaver they had solid evidence he violated federal gun laws--and then they offered him a deal. Become an informant on the Aryan Nations, the agents said, and the gun charge would be dropped. Weaver would have no part of it. "You can go to hell," he said. Back at the cabin that night, Vicki composed a letter to "Aryan Nations & all our brethren of the Anglo Saxon race" warning them that ATF agents were looking for snitches. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Randy Weaver.
Knowing that Vicki had filed an affidavit with the Boundary County clerk giving "legal notice that we believe we may have to defend ourselves and our family from physical attacks on our lives" by the federal government, ATF agents were understandably reluctant to simply drive up the Weaver's long dirt driveway and attempt an arrest there. Instead, they hit upon another plan. Posing as stranded motorists one January night after having been radioed by a neighbor that Randy was on his way down the mountain, three agents and the county sheriff surprised Weaver with an arrest at gunpoint. The next afternoon, at the federal building in Coeur d'Alene, a magistrate entered a not-guilty plea entered for Weaver and released him on an unsecured $10,000 bond. A court date was set for February 20, 1991 (although a letter to Weaver incorrectly stated the court date to be March 20).
Weaver never had any intention of returning for his court date. A letter written by Vicki to the U. S. Attorney for Idaho (addressed in the letter as the "Servant of the Queen of Babylon") promised they "will not bow to your evil commandments...whether we live or whether we die." When the February court date passed, with Randy as a no-show, a failure to appear warrant was issued for Weaver's arrest and the case sent to the U. S. Marshal's Service. In light of what became a constant stream of threatening letters to the federal government, Dave Hunt, deputy U. S. Marshal, reluctantly considered calling in Special Operations Group (SOG), an elite marshals force used for raids and difficult fugitive cases.
The Weaver household grew in 1991, with the delivery, in their birthing shed, of a baby girl they named Elisheba. The Weaver children now numbered four. In addition to Elisheba, there was Sara (age 15), Sammy (13), and Rachel (9). Kevin Harris, a teen with a troubled past who the Weavers had taken in, also spent months at a time in the Weaver cabin. The presence of children complicated the Marshal's Service task, especially given Randy Weaver's practice of sending his gun-toting children out in front of him to greet strangers.
By early 1992, the stand-off at Ruby Ridge attracted national notoriety. Press figures ranging from Geraldo Rivera to reporters for the Los Angeles Times requested interviews with the Weavers, but the only reporter they agreed to talk to wrote for a small weekly paper in Bonner's Ferry. In the interview, Randy said the feds were more concerned about "shutting our mouths" than they were about shotguns. The Weavers claimed not to be Aryans or Nazis, just people who came to Idaho to "escape religious persecution." But now, Vicki said, "there's nowhere left to escape our lawless rulers." The Weavers were making the federal government look weak and silly. Pressure mounted on the Marshal's Service to do something.
Shoot-Out at Ruby RidgeHowen thought Vicki Weaver's threatening letters to government officials showed as clearly as anything the Weavers' responsibility for what happened on the mountain the previous August. He called the U. S. Attorney for Idaho, Maurice Ellsworth, to testify about the Vicki's confrontational rants. On cross-examination, Spence attempted to portray the letters as simply the exercise of free speech and irrelevant to the standoff. Spence asked: "I, as a citizen of the United States, have a right to call you the Queen of Babylon if I want to, true?" Ellsworth conceded the point, but added that he considered Weaver's letters so threatening as to prompt him to ask marshals to assess the danger.
Sketch by FBI sniper showing what he saw immediately before firing bullet that killed Vicki Weaver
A SOG surveillance team consisting of six marshals entered the Weaver property on August 21, 1992, with the intent of scouting out positions for an undercover plan to capture Weaver. At about 10:45 a.m., near the end of the operation, three marshals were moving back down the mountain to rejoin their other comrades. The Weaver's yellow Lab, Striker, had caught a whiff and ran down the road to investigate, followed by Sammy Weaver and Kevin Harris. The dog closed in on the retreating three marshals, Arthur Roderick, Larry Cooper, and 15-year SOG veteran Billy Degan. Soon the dog had Cooper cornered. As Harris came up behind the dog, Cooper rose and shouted, "Back off! U.S. Marshal!" Seconds later, from behind a stump, Degan rose to his knee and shouted, "Freeze! U.S. Marshal!"
Then the shots began. Who shot who first remains a point of contention even today. The government story is that Harris wheeled and fired first, fatally wounding Billy Degan in the chest. Cooper responded by firing two three-round bursts at Harris, but missed him. Roderick, meanwhile, from his location further down the path, worried that the dog might give away the location of the other marshals. He fired and killed Striker. What the government stories cannot account for is how Sammy Weaver, Randy's thirteen-year old son, ended up dead with a bullet in his back. According to the marshals, they had no clue Sammy had been killed until his body was discovered days later in the Weaver's birthing shed. What is known is that when the machine guns were finally gathered up, to the great surprise of Cooper (who was certain Degan never fired), it was discovered that seven rounds were missing from Degan's gun.
Kevin Harris later offered a different version of the events. He said that when Roderick shot his dog, Sammy Weaver yelled, "You killed my dog, you son of a bitch!" and began firing at the marshals, one of whom opened up on him with a barrage of bullets. Kevin claimed he fired at Degan only to protect Sammy, but it was too late.
Reports of a marshal dead on Ruby Ridge set off alarm bells in Washington, where FBI officials began plotting their next moves, which included revising the agency's rules of engagement to allow agents to shoot to kill any adult at Ruby Ridge seen in the possession of a firearm--whether or not that adult was presently posing a risk of immediate death or bodily harm. The FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), including its most elite snipers, arrived in Idaho early the next morning. When briefed on their assignment at Ruby Ridge on August 22, snipers were told that if they observed an adult carrying a weapon, deadly force "can and should" be used to take them out.
The FBI had as of yet made no surrender demand when Sniper Len Horiuchi's opportunity arose shortly after taking his position. Randy, Sara, and Kevin left the cabin to visit Sammy's body in the birthing shed. As Randy reached for the shed door, a bullet tore through his arm. After the shot, the three ran back to the cabin. Vicki through open the door as her husband and eldest daughter, followed by Harris, dove in. Then another shot rang out. From inside the cabin, screams could be heard. What the HRT did not know, and what they would not find out for days, is that the second bullet from Horiuchi's .308-caliber gun had ripped its way through Vicki Weaver's brain and lodged in the arm of Kevin Harris. Three hours after the shooting, Harris, coughing up blood and in agony, begged Randy to finish him off. "Kevin, I can't do that," Randy replied.
Negotiation efforts for a surrender continued for days as angry right-wing protesters gathered near Ruby Ridge. Skinheads, looking for action, flocked in from as far away as Las Vegas and Portland. Some of the negotiation efforts, inspired by the belief that Vicki was still alive and was the key to a peaceful resolution of the stand-off, backfired miserably. Notably, for example, there was the suggestion by a negotiator on the third day, "Good morning, Mrs. Weaver. We had pancakes this morning. And what did you have for breakfast? Why don't you send the children out for some pancakes, Mrs. Weaver." The Weavers interpreted the pancakes idea as just a cruel joke. Expecting to die at any time in a hail or bullets or a firestorm, Kevin and Randy composed a six-page letter offering their side of the confrontation.
There was finally a breakthrough in the long stand-off on August 28, when Randy agreed to speak with Bo Gritz, a former Green Beret and proponent of right-wing views who was then running for president of the United States on the Populist Party ticket. Gritz and two other friends of Randy succeeded on August 30 in convincing the injured Harris to surrender and receive medical treatment. The Weavers surrendered the next day following word from Gritz that famed defense attorney Gerry Spence had readily agreed to represent Weaver in his trial. Bo Gritz, meanwhile, had a new campaign issue. He told supporters at Ruby Ridge: "There's a bureaucrat up here that's guilty. Somebody is going to be brought to justice. I believe we're gonna find some fat bureaucrat who authorized this to go down." The FBI's top agent at Ruby Ridge, Gene Glenn, said of the events on the mountain: "We are very sorry....There are no winners in a situation with all this sadness."
Weaver defense attorney Gerry Spence outside the Boise courthouse
Following their surrender, a grand jury indicted Kevin Harris for the murder of Deputy Marshal Degan and indicted Randy Weaver for aiding and abetting in Degan's death. Both defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges. They waited in the Ada County Jail for eight months as attorneys on both sides prepared for what promised to be a lengthy trial.
Joining Spence on the defense team was his son, Kent, a young local attorney named Chuck Peterson, and David Nevin, Kevin Harris's court appointed attorney. Nevin accepted the case despite the low pay, the career risks associated with representing a cop killer, and the near certainty that U. S. Attorney Ron Howe would "throw the book" at his client. He took the case for one reason: it afforded to work along side the man who had become the most famous defense attorney in America. Jess Walter, in his fine book on the Ruby Ridge case, describes Spence as a lawyer who had succeeded in crafting himself "as the Lone Ranger of the law, not just a good guy, but something more, a mythical figure, a hero."
Ron Howen wanted to make the jury see Weaver as a man whose racist and anti-government beliefs, combined with an almost unbelievable stubbornness, was responsible not just for the death of Billy Degan, but also his son and wife. In Howe's mind, Randy and Vicki, had formed a criminal enterprise in dealing illegal firearms and all but forced the shootout.
To Spence, the case was about freedom of religion and self-defense. The government's decision to pursue a conspiracy theory played right into Spence's hands by turning the case into one about Weaver's beliefs. What defense attorneys had most feared was a narrow indictment that would have excluded testimony about Weaver's out-of-the-mainstream philosophy.
Meanwhile, David Nevin had his own insight about the case. The whole case, he concluded, really turned on the dog.
Opening arguments were heard in Boise in the sixth floor courtroom of U. S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge on April 12, 1993. Prosecutors described the shooting of Bill Degan
as a cold-blooded murder. Nevin, in his opening, told of young Sammy yelling, "I'm coming, Dad" and then moments later being "shot in the back, running away, running home." Nevin told jurors he was in court to protect Kevin Harris from becoming "the fall guy" for the government's "botched" handling of the standoff. Spence insisted that the evidence would show Randy Weaver "had the right to be free."
The first prosecution witness was U. S. marshal Larry Cooper, who testified that Harris shot his good friend, Bill Degan, immediately after the marshal rose in the woods to identify himself. Cooper responded, he said, by firing at Harris. He then heard two other shots, presumably Arthur Roderick shooting Striker, and Sammy yell out, "You son of a bitch." Cooper then rushed to help his mortally wounded friend. "I put my left two fingers on his left carotid artery," Cooper said breaking up, "I get three or four heartbeats and then it stops." On cross, Nevin got Cooper to admit that he was surprised to learn Degan's gun revealed seven missing rounds. Nevin suggested the marshals were toting heavy guns with a silencer on a so-called observation mission because they intended all along to kill Weaver's dog. "You wanted to lure that dog up the side of that hill so you could take him out with your silenced gun?" Nevin asserted more than asked. "No sir," Cooper replied. Spence followed up with more questions about Striker's shooting. "Did the dog do anything...that was illegal?" Spence asked. To another objection from prosecutors, Spence asked Cooper the question that raised the most troubling problem with the government's timeline: "Does it make sense to you that Officer Roderick would be shooting the dog after Mr. Degan is dead, after Mr. Degan is shot?"
Prosecutors also put a family friend of the Weavers, Rodney Willey, on the stand to testify that concerning the Weavers' determination to fight the government and never to voluntarily surrender. Willey confirmed the government's key points, but on cross-examination proved to be an even more effective witness for the defense. Willey told of Vicki's fear that the government would remove her children and place them in the welfare system, an unbearable prospect for the loving mother. Willey also described Randy and Vicki as a loving couple, always "holding hands" and never arguing or fighting. He described their relationship as "a love story."
A cart loaded with fourteen guns (including two loaded with armor-piercing bullets) and 4,500 rounds of ammunition was shown to the jury. Prosecutors also played surveillance videotapes showing gun-carrying kids roaming around the rocky knob that was the Weaver's property. Arthur Roderick, responding to questions about the tapes, observed that thirteen-year-old Sammy was shown to carry a gun 84% of the time.
When questions turned to the shootout, Arthur Roderick insisted that he shot Striker for "a couple of reasons," including both a fear that the dog might attack and, even more, that the dog "would keep alerting and lead [Harris and Sammy] right to us." On cross, Nevin pointedly asked, "You shot the dog first, didn't you?" "No," Roderick replied coolly, "I did not shoot the dog first." The last deputy marshal to testify, Frank Norris, provided a boost for the defense's timeline when he admitted that the first shot he heard that day "sounded like a two-twenty-three," the weapon carried by Roderick, but not by either Sammy or Harris. There was another shooting occurring in Idaho: the prosecution case was getting shot full of holes, and some of the bullets were of its own making.
Along with exposing weaknesses in the government's story, another theme of defense questions was the significance of the FBI's revised rules of engagement in play at Ruby Ridge, rules that the defense maintained led inevitably to the death of Vicki Weaver. On cross, defense lawyers established that there "was no ongoing firefight" when the HRT arrived and that revisions to the rules of engagement were made in Washington "before you even talked to the men" in Idaho. Perhaps most damaging to the prosecution was the statement by Richard Rogers, commander of the HRT, that he never considered what laws of Idaho might apply: "No, sir," he said, "I don't operate under state law. I operate under federal law, which supersedes state law." While an accurate statement of the effect of the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, Rogers matter-of-fact statement seem to offend some citizens of Idaho in the jury box.
Perhaps the most anticipated prosecution witness was Lon Horiuchi, the young FBI sniper who shot Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris, and who killed Vicki Weaver. Ten armed federal agents were in the courtroom for the testimony; neo-Nazi groups had plastered "Wanted: Dead or Alive" posters featuring a picture of Horiuchi. The witness testified he fired his first shots in the belief that Kevin Harris was positioning himself to shoot at an approaching government helicopter. When he fired the bullet that killed Vicki, Horiuchi said he had no idea that she was standing behind the curtain to the door that Randy and Kevin were rushing to enter. "No, sir," Horiuchi replied when asked whether he ever intended to kill Vicki. On cross, Spence asked the sniper if he knew "there was a possibility of someone being behind the door." Horiuchi admitted that he understood the possibility. Spence saw an opportunity to use Horiuchi to bring jurors to terms with the horror caused by his shot. He asked about the screaming that was heard following his fatal bullet. "That screaming went on for thirty seconds?" Spence asked. "About thirty seconds, yes, sir." Spence seized the moment: "I want us to just take thirty seconds, now pretend in our mind's eye that we can here the screaming--" Spence said nothing and all eyes in the courtroom turned to the wall, where the second hand on a clock traced half of a circle.
When Ron Howen returned to his office after Horiuchi's emotional day of testimony there was a package from Washington on his desk. Opening it, Howen found to his great consternation a crude drawing on a hotel notepad. The drawing was one made by Horiuchi on the day after the shooting and in one of the windows to the door of Weaver's cabin were two semicircles representing heads, just where Horiuchi had testified as to seeing none. The desktop discovery was, according to Jess Walter's trial account, "the low point" of Howen's career as a prosecutor. The defense had to be notified and the sniper would have to fly back to Idaho and explain this sketch to an already skeptical jury.
A series of ballistic and forensic witnesses brought to an end the government's case. The jury had listened to fifty-four prosecution witnesses over thirty six days.
For weeks, defense attorneys had debated one question more than any other: should they present a defense, or simply present their story through the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses? By not presenting their own case, the defense believed the jury would be more likely to see the case as about reasonable doubt. They would consider weaknesses in the prosecution case and ask themselves whether the government met its burden of proof. If the defense did present a case, the jury would be more likely to ask which side presented the more plausible story, the prosecution or the defense. Nevin strongly supported putting his client on the stand. He believed that Kevin Harris would come across as a good kid and that the jury would believe his story. They would believe that he didn't want to kill Bill Degan. On the other hand, Spence leaned against presenting defense witnesses. Some of the prosecution's witnesses had turned into good character witnesses for the Weavers, the defense had exposed government bungling and misconduct, and--significantly--Randy wasn't accused of shooting anybody. Although Sara Weaver might in some ways make an appealing witness, Spence worried that she was far too honest and would admit that she wore swastikas, stole from neighbors, and called African-Americans "niggers." He worried even more what might happen to his incredibly stubborn, racist, government-hating client on cross. Although a jury always wants and expects to hear from the defendants themselves, in this case, Spence believed, the risks outweighed the rewards. In the end, Nevin decided to trust the instincts of his more experienced co-counsel. The defense announced that it waived its right to present any witnesses and rested its case.
Closing arguments began on June 15. The courtroom was packed and the overflow crowd shuffled into an adjacent courtroom where they could watch the proceedings on closed-circuit television. Most spectators had come to hear Gerry Spence deliver another of his legendary summations. But first they heard from the government.
Kim Lindquist offered the summation for the prosecution, filling in for the ailing Howen. Lindquist told jurors that the case was about two defendants who, despite chance after chance to resolve things peaceably, were determined to defy the law even if in meant putting at risk the lives of government officials or their own children. "Why is Vicki Weaver dead? Because of that resolve. Why is Bill Degan dead? Because of that resolve. Why is Sammy Weaver dead? Because of that resolve."
Nevin asked jurors to consider whether the evidence really proved that his client "wheeled and fired and killed Bill Degan for no reason." He said the government's story of the shooting was simply "not true" and termed the conspiracy charge against Harris "preposterous."
Gerry Spence began his summation by shaking his client's hand. He told jurors, "You may be the most important jury that's come along in a decade." This was a case, he said, that "kids in law school were going to read about." At one point, Spence knelt before his client, looked him in the eyes, and said, "Randy, I'll tell you want you're guilty of. You're guilty of being one stubborn mother. You are guilty of being afraid." Turning to the jury, Spence continued: "Aren't we all guilty of being afraid?" For the next two and half hours, Spence railed against what he called a government cover-up of its own ineptitude. He angrily shouted, "Marshals aren't supposed to shoot little boys in the back!" Spence told jurors that this was indeed a murder case, "but the people who committed the murder have not been charged." He suggested Randy Weaver, who had lost his dear wife, had been punished enough. The "horror" needs to come to an end, and told jurors they had the power to do just that.
The jury deliberations lasted longer than any other in Idaho history. The jury's task was complicated by eight separate charges, ranging from failure to appear in court to first-degree murder. Debates were heated at times. Factions developed. On July 8, the jury finally completed its work. They voted to acquit Kevin Harris on all charges and Randy Weaver on all major charges. Weaver was convicted of failing to appear in court. On October 18, Judge Lodge sentenced Weaver to eighteen months in jail. Having served fourteen already, and with good behavior, the sentence meant he could be out by Christmas.
Following his release from jail in December, Weaver returned to Grand Junction, Iowa, where he, Elisheba, and Rachel moved in to a rented home. Sara, meanwhile, finished her senior year of high school in Des Moines. Although Weaver was described as "bitter and aimless," the confrontation at Ruby Ridge had made him into a sort of folk hero to many on the far right--much to the disgust of marshals involved in the siege.
In Washington, investigation into what happened in August 1992 continued on several fronts. An FBI investigation of the incident led to minor punishment for fourteen agency employees. The Department of Justice prepared a 542-page report on the case, concluding that the shot that killed Vicki Weaver violated the Department's deadly force policy and "contravened the Constitution." A subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on Ruby Ridge in the fall of 1995. Weaver told senators that if he had it to do over again, "I would come down the mountain for the court appearance." In his testimony, FBI Director Louis Freeh blamed the tragedy on "one misstatement of fact exaggerated to another one, into a huge pile of information that was just dead wrong."
In 1995, a civil suit brought by the Weaver family against the United States was settled, with the government agreeing to pay $3.1 million in compensation for the deaths of Vicki and Sammy Weaver. Five years later, Kevin Harris accepted a $380,000 settlement.
Back in Boundary County, in 1997, there were further developments. A new inspection of the vicinity of the shoot-out turned up the bullet that had killed Sammy Weaver. The bullet came from Larry Cooper's gun. County Prosecutor Denise Woodbury filed involuntary manslaughter charges against FBI agent Lon Hoiuchi and murder charges (later dropped) against Kevin Harris. The Horiuchi case moved to federal court, where Judge Lodge dismissed the charge on federal preemption grounds. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, voting 6 to 5, overturned Judge Lodge's decision and reinstated the charge in 2001. Two weeks later, the new Boundary Country prosecutor dropped charges against the former sniper. According to his friends, Horiuchi continues to be haunted by the ghosts of Ruby Ridge.
Randy Weaver, at the time charges were dropped against Horiuchi, drove a Cadillac and a Harley and lived on a quiet street in Jefferson, Iowa. He appeared at gun shows, signed copies of his 1998 book about the siege ("Keep your powder dry" was his typical inscription), and continued to harbor his racial separatism and anti-government beliefs. His views on religion had changed, though. "Religion's all a bunch of crap," he told one supporter at a Nebraska gun show. Asked in 2001 what he remembered about Ruby Ridge, Weaver said:
"There was no
wind. The snowflakes were so big you could hear them when
they hit the ground. The kids had three or four campgrounds around the
They'd go out and build fires at night.
And Vicki canned. She and the kids would pick
huckleberries. She got top dollar 'cause she picked clean. Or she'd
gallon of huckleberries for four quarts of peaches. We sold firewood --
Vick and the kids."