June 13, 2000
Clearwater Fla., (Reuters) - On Tuesday, officials of the Scientology Church greeted the suspense of criminal charges against the church for the death of a member, while a critic promised that the legal dispute would continue in civil court.
On Monday, district attorney Bernie McCabe of Pinellas County let drop the criminal charges against the church for mistreatment of an incapacitated adult and practicing medicine without a license in the fatal case of Lisa McPherson, who died in 1995 after 17 days of care by members of the church.
McCabe explained that the case by Joan Wood, the Pinellas medical expert had been undermined when she, in February, changed her findings in McPherson's death from "undetermined" to "accidental," after experts hired by the church had put the results of her autopsy in question.
"We are very happy. We think that was was the appropriate thing to do," said Scientology speaker Mike Rinder about McCabe's decision. The church denies having caused McPherson's death.
But Ken Dandar, the attorney of McPherson's next of kin, promised to continue a separate suit against the church.
"That has absolutely no influence on the civil suit," Dandar stated to the St. Petersburg Times.
No trial date has yet been set for the civil proceedings.
On November 18, 1995, McPherson was involved in an insignificant traffic accident in Clearwater. After the accident, she took her clothes off and asked a rescue work for help and was brought to a local hospital.
A few hours later she went away with several members of Scientology and was brought to the headquarters of the church in a former hotel in the center of Clearwater.
On December 5, her condition deteriorated and she was brought to a hospital where a doctor of the Scientologists was on duty, many miles further than one only a few blocks away. When she arrived in the hospital, she was declared dead.
According to sworn testimony by an investigator who worked for the district attorney's office, McPherson was psychotic and delusional when she was in the care of staff members of Scientology.
The investigator stated that she had been restrained and medically treated with force by unqualified staff members. The investigator said that much of his information came from interviews with those who cared for McPherson.
McCabe's criminal charges were against the church and not against any staff members. In the event the church would have been found guilty in both charges, the punishment would have consisted only of fines.
In 1994, McPherson moved from Texas to Clearwater on the west coast of Florida to take courses in the Scientology headquarters. She worked in a publishing house which belonged to Scientologists.
Scientology was founded in 1954 by author L. Ron Hubbard in Los Angeles. The headquarters in Clearwater was established as a spiritual center in 1975 where Scientologists from the United States and other countries could go to take courses.
German Scientology News