Autopsy photos' release delayed
Confusion over wording and the Church of Scientology's petition
kept pictures sealed Wednesday.
By THOMAS C. TOBIN
St. Petersburg Times
July 6, 2000 CLEARWATER -- A Pinellas judge ruled Wednesday that autopsy photos of Scientologist Lisa McPherson should be made public, but the photos remained under seal after the Church of Scientology quickly asked for a delay. Attorneys for the St. Petersburg Times, one of several news organizations requesting the photos, will request an immediate hearing today. McPherson, 36, died in 1995 while in the care of Scientology staffers in Clearwater. A three-year investigation followed and the church's Clearwater operation was charged with two felonies. Last month, when prosecutors dropped the charges because of problems with the testimony of Medical Examiner Joan Wood, thousands of records in the case became public. However, the church has argued that releasing the autopsy photos could prevent a fair trial in Hillsborough County, where it is fighting a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by McPherson's estate. The church says it fears the photos will be published by newspapers and by its critics on the Internet, thus inflaming potential jurors. But in his ruling Wednesday, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell wrote that the church "has not shown the likelihood of irreparable harm" if the photos are released. "Even if the photographs are published extensively," he added, "that does not mean that the Hillsborough County court cannot seat an unbiased jury." Courts are equipped to handle such matters, he wrote. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office delayed release of the photos Wednesday, citing initial confusion over wording in Farnell's order. By the time the office was ready to comply with the order, the church had filed a motion asking Farnell to keep the photos secret until the 2nd District Court of Appeal can review the issue.