Chapter 73 - Obstruction of Justice
Sec. 1512 - Tampering with a witness, victim, or an informant
"(b) Whoever knowingly uses intimidation or physical force, threatens, or corruptly persuades another person, or attempts to do so, or engages in misleading conduct toward another person, with intent to - (1) influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding; (2) cause or induce any person to (A) withhold testimony, or withhold a record, document, or other object, from an official proceeding;"
Count 1: The conspiracy to destruct and to withhold evidence, executed by the "Office of Special Affairs" during the criminal investigation into Lisa McPherson's death, which was conducted by the Clearwater Police Department and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Lisa McPherson was a public Scientologist from Clearwater in Florida, who had joined the organization in 1977 in Dallas and who later worked at times as a staff member at the "Celebrity Center Dallas." In 1993 Lisa McPherson moved to Clearwater, when her employer the company "AMC Publishing" decided to settle in Clearwater and operate from there. AMC Publishing was composed mostly of Scientologists who were "parishioners" of the "Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization, Inc." (FSO), which is promoted as the "spiritual headquarters of Scientology."
In 1995 Lisa McPherson received an intensive auditing program at the FSO, which included several individual steps of Scientology processing like "Class XII auditing," and "Power Processing" for which she paid over $ 70,000 in 1994 and 1995 [Exh. No. 351].
During this period of intensive auditing Lisa McPherson ran into severe mental problems. Apparently in June/July of 1995, Lisa experienced a psychotic episode which caused the FSO to place her under an "isolation watch" at the organization's main building, the former hotel "Fort Harrison." The Church of Scientology claims to possess a technology to undo a psychotic breakdown by confining them in rooms. After observing them in silence these persons get "treated" with certain processes, like the "Introspection Rundown," which eventually should free them from their psychotic episodes. During Lisa's first crisis in June and July, the FSO-staff kept detailed, daily notes about her mental and physical condition, while she was being confined. These logs were written by the individual staff who had watched Lisa during her psychotic period [Exh. No. 352].
After Lisa had managed to overcome her breakdown, she continued to work at AMC Publishing and received more auditing at the FSO. In September Lisa achieved the status of "Clear," which per Scientology-definition enables a person to be "mentally stable" and "free from active or potential psychosomatic illness or aberration" ["What is Scientology?," page 65, © CSI 1993].
Nevertheless on November 18th, after she had been involved in a minor car accident, Lisa got out of her car and while walking wild-eyed down the street, she took off all her clothes. The police brought her to Clearwater's Morton Plant Hospital, where she was examined by a psychiatric nurse. Soon after several Scientologists, including OSA-member Humberto Fontana, arrived at the hospital and talked to her. A little while later Lisa checked herself out of the hospital, against the advice of the doctors. The Scientologists brought her to the Fort Harrison, where she would spent the following 17 days in room No. 174, again being held under isolation watch.
On December 5th, the Scientologist "caretakers" called Dr. David Minkoff, a public Scientologist, who worked at the New Port Richey Hospital. Janis Johnson, FSO-staff member and "Medial Liaison Officer," told Minkoff that Lisa could not walk and requested a prescription of penicillin. Minkoff refused and told her to bring Lisa to the nearest hospital. Johnson apparently responded that Lisa was not that sick and that they would transport her to Minkoff's hospital. When they finally arrived with Lisa 45 minutes later, while having passed three other hospitals on the way, Minkoff pronounced her dead on arrival [Exh. No. 353].
The day after, on December 6th, the Medical Examiner Officer conducted an autopsy of Lisa's body. Its report stated that the death was caused by "bed rest and severe dehydration [Exh. No. 354, Excerpt]." The Clearwater Police Department concurrently started a wrongful death investigation.
About one year later during November 1996, a Scientology-critic from Arizona, Jeff Jacobsen, discovered a request for information concerning Lisa's death on the web page of the Clearwater Police Department. Subsequently he posted the matter on the Scientology newsgroup "alt.religion.scientology." About three weeks later, on December 15th, the "Tampa Tribune," as the first newspaper, published the story of Lisa's death and the on-going police investigation [Exh. No. 355].
Within the following months the case of Lisa McPherson became the subject of countless articles in local, national and international newspapers and magazines. Even several television documentaries were produced that featured the mystery about the circumstances of Lisa's death.
While the police investigation was still going on, the Estate of Lisa McPherson filed a wrongful death-complaint against the FSO and various individuals on February 19th, 1997, who participated in the care-taking of Lisa ("Estate of Lisa McPherson vs. Church of Scientology Flag Service Organization, Inc., Janis Johnson, et al," Circuit Court for the Sixth Judicial Circuit in and for Pinellas County, No. 97-01235).
Five months later the notes and reports from the Lisa's caretakers became the issue of a court ruling. The civil trial judge ruled that these notes were not confidential and released them to the open court record [Exh. No. 356]. It became publicly known that Lisa's McPherson's caretakers at the Fort Harrison kept daily notes, describing her mental and physical state as well as any medical measurements they had undertaken to improve Lisa's physical condition. These reports had then been forwarded to the "Case Supervisor" Alain Kartuzinski, who had supervised Lisa's treatment. The reports further revealed that Lisa was given Chloral hydrate and Magnesium chloride and was shortly before her death evidently in a progressed dehydrated state.
A note in a "plan" of one of the caretakers on December 1st, 1995 stated [Exh. No. 357]:
"(2) Needs 2 l fluids when awake and attempt to feed."
Another report from November 22nd, described one of several psychotic episodes Lisa had to endure during the 2 ˝ weeks [Exh. No. 358]:
"... She started swearing again at me. This went on for 25 minutes. I went on this watch as I had no senior to consult with at 2 am. I went into the room + and she went totally Type III [=psychotic]. Blabbering, non-coherent, non-stop. ... "After 1 pm she went violent + hit me a few times, telling me in a rage she was to kill me ... "
A report from December 2nd, gave a hint of her physical condition [Exh. No. 359]:
"2 pm. Appears to be awakening. She has tried to stand several times but is not strong enough yet. ... "
"4 pm. She has tried to stand a couple of times but is not strong enough."
In December 1997 the Clearwater Police Department which had worked together with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded its investigation and issued a final report on December 15th which was presented to the Florida State Attorney's Office [Exh. No. 360, Excerpt]. The report ended with a recommendation to file criminal charges for "aggravated manslaughter" and "practice of medicine" without license against three FSO-staff members, Alain Kartuzinski, Janis Johnson and Laura Arrunada. In an interview with a newspaper OSA-senior executive Kurt Weiland stated that the Clearwater police had "no evidence" and would follow a pattern of discrimination against his church that had begun in the 1970s [Exh. No. 361].
One week earlier, on December 5th, the Scientologists had staged a huge protest with several thousand members demonstrating in front of the police headquarters, accusing the Chief of Police Sid Klein of discriminating and violating the rights of Scientologists. [Exh. No. 362]. The protests were held at the same time as a group of Scientology-critics were holding a candle light vigil in the memory of the death of Lisa McPherson in front of the Fort Harrison.
While for the next several months the public was waiting for the decision of the State Attorney's Office if it would prosecute the Scientologists for the death of Lisa or not, some movement did take place in the civil case. David Minkoff, the Scientologist doctor, who had prescribed medicine on behalf of Lisa without actually having seen her while she was the Fort Harrison, had been included as a defendant in the course of the initial stage of the lawsuit. In September 1998 he surprisingly settled with the plaintiffs with a payment of $ 100,000 towards the estate of Lisa McPherson [Exh. No. 363].
On November 13th, 1998 the State Attorney's Office made its decision public, when Prosecutor Bernie McCabe announced that he had filed criminal charges against the Flag Service Organization for abuse, negligence and the illegal practice of medicine in connection with the death of Lisa McPherson [Exh. No. 364].
A long period of pre-trial proceedings followed, until February of the year 2000, when a new report of the Medical Examiner Joan Wood dramatically changed the legal ground of the criminal case. Wood filed an "Amended Report on Autopsy" in which she changed the cause of death of Lisa from "undetermined" to "accidental" [Exh. No. 365]. The State Attorney's Office announced that they would review the decision to see how it would influence their case against the FSO.
The review, conducted by Assistant States Attorney Douglas Crow, was completed four months later and formulated in a memorandum, written on June 9th, 2000 and sent to his superior McCabe [Exh. No. 366]. Crow wrote:
"While nothing in this review has caused me that the central premises behind the prosecution are erroneous, our ability to establish these necessary facts beyond a reasonable doubt has clearly been compromised. The changes to the death certificate and autopsy report are on their face seriously damaging to our underlying theory of prosecution. While Dr. Wood is an extremely intelligent and knowledgeable expert who is a formidable witness when defending a valid position, her inability to coherently explain her decision even under benign questioning by me is completely perplexing. Because of Wood's admission of a serious forensic error, her illogical and unfortunately inconsistent justifications of her decision to change the death certificate and autopsy report, the inconsistency between the changes made in the death certificate and the forensic basis for our charges, her continuing equivocation on issues central to the criminal case, and the very real possibility that the cause of death listed by the Medical Examiner's Office is incorrect, I have come to the conclusion that presentation of the Medical Examiner's current testimony to a jury will create a reasonable doubt on crucial forensic issues. When combined with existing problems in the case, it is my recommendation that we should not continue to pursue the prosecution."
Three days later McCabe publicly announced his decision to drop the charges against the Scientology-organization, stating the reasons Crow had given him in his memorandum [Exh. No. 367]. A newspaper article cited a comment of a senior executive of Scientology, Mark Rathbun, a member of the "Religious Technology Center" who declared that the criminal case had been based on lies and that anyone familiar with the facts would have known that Lisa died of a blood clot caused by the traffic accident on November 18th.
The civil case by the Estate of Lisa McPherson continued and during the writing of this affidavit a trial date for this case has been set for this summer.
In a separate fallout of the criminal case the Scientology doctor David Minkoff lost his license for one year as medical doctor after a hearing before the Florida Board of Medicine in August of 2001 [Exh. No. 368]. The Board found that he had prescribed Valium and the muscle-relaxant Chloral hydrate without having seen his patient Lisa McPherson and that therefore he had not acted like a "reasonably prudent physician." Minkoff later appealed the decision, but an appeal board later upheld the earlier ruling.
Minkoff, with the loss of his license and the settlement payment of $ 100,000 to the Estate, was the only person so far who had to face serious consequences because of his involvement in the "isolation watch" and the subsequent death of Lisa. Ironically, he was also the only one who showed contrition and sincerity when he was questioned by the police and State investigators about his role in the affair.
The activities and the role of the "Office of Special Affairs" (OSA) can certainly not be described as sincere, far less that contrite. While OSA's propaganda machine relentlessly attacked everyone who either criticized the treatment of Lisa while at the Fort Harrison or who tried to bring light into the circumstances of her death, its legal division was responsible for the destruction of important evidence, which could have revealed the cause of Lisa's death.
When the decision of State Prosecutor Bernie McCabe to file criminal charges against the FSO was announced in the media on November 14th in 1998, an article in the Tampa Tribune cited an affidavit of an investigator of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Special Agent Lee Strope stated in his affidavit that certain internal reports on Lisa's physical condition were either lost or destroyed by church officials [Exh. No. 369]. Specifically the sworn affidavit from November 13th 1998 said:
"... Andrea Sprecher testified in your Affiant's presence that she was approached by Alain Kartuzinski and told to assign Janice Johnson, who was employed by the CSFSO in the Medical Liaison Office, to assist full-time to the task of taking care of Lisa McPherson.
"Your Affiant further learned from numerous witnesses that other CSFSO employees were organized on a schedule where caretakers watched her 24 hours a day. Most of these caretakers made written reports to Alain Kartuzinski, Lisa's senior case supervisor, as to her condition.
"Your Affiant, pursuant to subpoenas, obtained and reviewed many of the documents and reports that were made by caretakers and delivered to Alain Kartuzinski. A number of reports made by caretakers, including any and all records relating to Lisa's condition which were created during the last 53 hours of her life, have been lost or destroyed by the ‘Church.' ... "
The so-called "caretaker reports," already mentioned earlier in this chapter were probably the single most important evidence in the case, as they described Lisa's physical and mental decision from the view of the Scientologists who watched her and who would later, on December 5th, decide that it was necessary to call Dr. Minkoff because Lisa's condition had severely deteriorated. The last report that was made available to the investigators ended on December 3rd at 4 pm, 53 hours before her death [Exh. No. 370].
To establish what happened with the missing documents, the investigators interviewed not only the technical staff and Lisa's "caretakers" but also subpoenaed several OSA staff for questioning during 1997. The police was told that Scientology's records on Lisa, including the pc-folders, which contained the daily reports on her condition during the isolation watch, were given to the local Office of Special Affairs. It also learned that at some point in time all the documents were sent to the OSA-headquarters in Los Angeles.