Church[sic] Charged in Member's Death

© The Associated Press

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) -- Lisa McPherson's family says she was trying to leave the Church[sic] of Scientology when she was held for 17 days against her will at a church[sic] retreat, became severely dehydrated and died. The church[sic] claims she was taken there to recover from a mental breakdown and became violent and refused food or fluids. On Friday, authorities filed criminal charges against the Church[sic] of Scientology for the 1995 death, accusing it of abuse or neglect of a disabled adult, a second-degree felony, and unauthorized practice of medicine, a third- degree felony. If the church[sic] is convicted of the charges, the most it would face is a fine, according to Ken Dandar, a lawyer for the McPherson family. But that is more than enough, he said. ``That is more severe to the Church[sic] of Scientology than sending some of their members to prison for several years,'' he told today's Tampa Tribune. ``They exist for only one purpose, and that is to make money. Taking money away from them aggravates them more.'' A spokesman for the Church[sic] of Scientology declined to answer any questions about the charges, but noted in a prepared statement that the church[sic] was not charged specifically with Ms. McPherson's death, and called it a ``corporate negligence charge.'' ``There are no allegations that anyone intentionally harmed Lisa McPherson,'' Brian Anderson said. ``This has been a difficult investigation and the state has operated under immense political pressure and they ultimately decided to bring a corporate negligence charge.'' An autopsy showed Ms. McPherson, 36, died of an embolism or blood vessel blockage in her left lung caused by ``bed rest and severe dehydration.'' Pinellas County Medical Examiner Joan Wood said Ms. McPherson went without fluids for at least five to 10 days and possibly her entire stay at the retreat. Church[sic] officials have disputed that, saying she was well cared for by church[sic] members but became violent and incoherent, had trouble sleeping and frequently resisted efforts to give her food, liquids and medications. Church[sic] officials said she grew weak, lost weight and suddenly fell ill on Dec. 5, 1995. Church[sic] staffers said they drove her in a van to a hospital 45 minutes away in Pasco County so she could see an emergency room doctor who is a Scientologist. She was pronounced dead 20 minutes later. Clearwater police and Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers last December recommended charges in the death. Ms. McPherson's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit last year seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. ``They're happy that criminal charges have been filed because, finally now, they believe criminal justice can take place and show this was a preventable death,'' Dandar said. Church[sic] officials have said that the investigation into the death is part of a 15-year effort by Clearwater city officials to discredit Scientology. Scientology was founded in the 1950s by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who said people gathered traumatic memories in past lives that hindered them in the present. Scientologists believe those memories can be cleared through church[sic] counseling. AP-NY-11-14-98 0111EST