Channel 28 News, 4/06/2000 [screen in background has Scn crossed out cross and the phrase "Scientology fight for freedom" (using the Scn logo for the word "Scientology")] BRENDAN McLAUGHLIN: Now it's up to a judge to decide if the Church of Scientology should go on trial for member Lisa McPherson's death. The church says its fight to drop the charges is a fight for religious freedom. 28 Tampa Bay's Ron Spieker joins us now after the two-day hearing with today's developments. [screen in background has Scn crossed out cross and the phrase "Scientology fight for freedom" (using the Scn logo for the word "Scientology")] ROB SPIEKER--ON CAMERA: Well, Brandon, the judge admits it's going to take at least a month to make a decision she knows is not going to be easy. Lisa McPherson died after 17 days in the care of fellow church members. Prosecutors say neglect led to her death. But the church is fighting for religious freedom to protect Scientology's practices. [picture of Lisa McPherson] BENNETTA SLAUGHTER: All of this has nothing to do with whether Lisa died or didn't die. [picture of Lisa; footage from courtroom] ROB SPIEKER--VOICE OF: Bennetta Slaughter was Lisa McPherson's best friend. For two days in court, she felt like her religion was under attack. BENNETTA SLAUGHTER (caption--"Bennetta Slaughter, Scientologist"): Every action that was engaged upon while she was at the church was done with the intention to provide her with the spiritual counseling and the help that she needed, wanted and asked for. [picture of Lisa; outside of hospital; Fort Harrison Hotel] ROB SPIEKER--VOICE OF: In November 1995, McPherson checked herself out of the hospital after an accident and mental breakdown to avoid psychiatric treatment. For the next 2-1/2 weeks she relied on Scientologist principles to help her heal. A blood clot in her lungs killed her on December 5. DOUG CROW: This is clearly a case of collective responsibility. [courtroom footage] ROB SPIEKER--VOICE OF: Prosecutors charge the church with neglect and say Lisa's lack of care is the reason they're ready for trial. DOUG CROW (caption--"Doug Crow, prosecutor"): We believe the corporation clearly sanctioned, approved the criminal conduct. [Scieno lawyer in front of graphs/charts display; Lisa's death certificate] ROB SPIEKER--VOICE OF: But Scientology's lawyers claim with the new ruling McPherson's death was accidental and constitutional protections for freedom of religion, there is no case. ERIC LIEBERMAN (caption--"Eric Lieberman, church attorney"): There can be no basis to charge the church for this conduct, stigmatizing an entire religion. [Scienos in courtroom; David Miscavige in courtroom] ROB SPIEKER--VOICE OF: Scientologists have packed the courtroom two days in a row. Even the church leader came in from California. They say their fight is everybody's fight. PAT JONES--ON CAMERA (caption--"Pat Jones, Scientologist"): Everybody in this country has that right to choose what their religion is and to go by the conviction of their beliefs. [courtroom footage] PAT JONES--VOICE OF: It will matter to every single American that their constitutional rights here are being defended by us. [screen in background has Scn crossed out cross and the phrase "Scientology fight for freedom" (using the Scn logo for the word "Scientology")] ROB SPIEKER--ON CAMERA: The maximum penalty for the Church of Scientology in this case is $15,000. But the church has already spent a lot more than that defending itself. Scientologists, though, say this fight for religious freedom isn't about the money; it's about the Constitution. Brendan? BRENDAN McLAUGHLIN: All right, thanks, Rob. The judge has a couple of options here in making a ruling. She could avoid a trial altogether by dismissing both charges or force a trial by dismissing only one charge or neither of them. The trial would then be held in October.