Seeking dismissal of case, Scientology says official is biased
By THOMAS C. TOBIN
St. Petersburg Times
May 27, 2000 CLEARWATER -- Medical Examiner Joan Wood's investigation into the death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson was so flawed and biased that criminal charges against the Church of Scientology should be dismissed, the church argues in a new motion. Wood violated her own policies and failed to preserve evidence that might vindicate Scientology, the church alleges. She also compromised the objectivity required of her by state law, the document says, displaying "an all-consuming passion to prosecute the church by inventing new creative medical theories" in McPherson's death. The church's Clearwater branch is charged with abuse of a disabled adult and practicing medicine without a license on McPherson as Scientology staffers tried to nurse her through a severe mental breakdown in 1995. After 17 days, she died of a blood clot while on the way to a hospital. The new document -- a motion to dismiss, filed this week -- comes at a complicated juncture in the case, now halfway into its second year. The church first asked Chief Circuit Judge Susan F. Schaeffer last August to dismiss the case on grounds it unconstitutionally burdens a religion. Schaeffer entertained the request at a two-day hearing in early April, promising a ruling by early May. Now, nearly a month after that deadline, the judge says she has yet to collect her thoughts and seriously consider the motion. That would be a waste of time if State Attorney Bernie McCabe were to drop the case on his own because of problems with Wood's testimony, Schaeffer said in a recent interview. "I'm not going to rush to beat them to the punch," she said. McCabe's office began to review its case against the church in February after Wood officially changed the manner of McPherson's death to "accident." Previously, she had called it "undetermined" and blamed the death on "bed rest and severe dehydration," but those words no longer appear on the death certificate. Though Wood did not explain the change, it appeared to support the notion that Scientology was not at fault in the death. Not so, say prosecutors, who have since talked to Wood and contend the veteran medical examiner maintains McPherson died of "medical neglect," in part because of dehydration. Still, prosecutors are worried about what they refer to as the "troubling inconsistency" between Wood's statements to them and the revised death certificate. McCabe's office may decide as early as next week whether to continue prosecuting the case.