Scientologists can see some, not all, evidence

[Tampa Tribune 28 February 1997]

3/30/97 -- 2:49 PM

02/28 Scientologists can see some, not all, evidence By CHERYL WALDRIP of The Tampa Tribune

Published in The Tampa Tribune Feb. 28, 1997

CLEARWATER - The Church of Scientology will get little of the information it sought from the office that autopsied 36-year-old Scientologist Lisa McPherson.

McPherson died in 1995. An autopsy by Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Joan Wood showed McPherson suffered from ``severe dehydration.'' She also had bruises and bites that Wood said likely were caused by cockroaches. In comments to reporters, Wood said McPherson was comatose for 24 to 48 hours before a blood clot killed her.

Scientology officials said Wood lied about the evidence. The church sued, saying her statements caused her records on McPherson to become public under the state's public records law.

Through her attorneys, Wood argued that the law's exemption for records pertaining to an active criminal investigation applies in this case.

McPherson's death is under investigation by the Clearwater Police Department, the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.McPherson's aunt also is suing the church over the death.

Circuit Judge Bob Barker ruled Thursday that most of the material is exempt, including physical samples such as McPherson's blood, her medical records from two area hospitals and most of the autopsy photographs.

However, he ruled that the church, as well as the public, is entitled to drafts and notes taken during the autopsy, the autopsy report, lab reports that document McPherson's hydration, the length of her unconsciousness, the cause of death, the cause of blood clotting, the appearance and cause of the insect bites, photographs of the bites, material pertaining to consistency of ``chronic process,'' photocopies of certain slides and certain lab reports regarding physical specimens.

Both sides claimed victory.

``The judge has concluded we were right,'' Scientology attorney Morris Weinberg said. ``She [Wood] waived the exemption.''

``The decision issued [Thursday] by Judge Barker shows that the church can rely on the courts for fairness and justice,'' said Scientology attorney Elliot Abelson. ``It is a total vindication for not only the church's position but for all those members of the public that will now get the true facts.'' Wood's attorney, Patricia Fields Anderson, said the ``draft'' of the autopsy is an unsigned copy of the report that already has been released.

The rest of the material is either already contained in that report or will yield no substantive information, she said.

``He upheld the active criminal investigation,'' Anderson said. ``He kept them away from the evidence. What they're going to get are a half-dozen scraps of paper.''

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