Transcript of CBS's Public Eye show on Lisa McPhersonJanuary 7, 1998
Description of video in [brackets].
VO = VOICEOVER of Kristin
ANNOUNCER: Once again, live from CBS News, here is
BRYANT GUMBEL (in studio): Since first attracting attention more than
years ago the tenets of Scientology have been reviled by critics
by supporters. Those same supporters have earned a fierce
relentlessly using the courts to defend Scientology,
ultimately gaining it
tax exempt status as a recognized religion. In
recent years, the church's
profile has been enhanced by association
with a variety of Hollywood stars,
famous folks who have put a shining
face on a self-styled church that's often
clouded by secrecy and
mistrust. All of which brings us to a lawsuit in
Florida, a wrongful
death suit that has pitted proponents of Scientology
family of a young woman who died in the prime of her life.
Jeannette-Meyers, herself a lawyer, details the sad end of
17 DAYS--Producer: Bill McGowan
[Video footage of Clearwater candlelight vigil 12/5/97 including: Mark
Dallara; bagpiper playing "Taps; Jeff Jacobsen holding sign; Dave Touretzky on
right Vigil member; Dave Touretzky blowing out candle in front of Ft
VO: She was not rich, famous, or powerful. but in death,
McPherson is grabbing headlines normally reserved for
[Daytime picket--Picketer (I think it.
s Garry Scarff) holding sign
with picture of Lisa and message "Honoring Lisa. s
memory--Please don. t
let it be lost in the battle--Murdered by
VO: That's because after two years, the death of Lisa
remains to many a mystery.
[pictures of Lisa, Ft.
VO: Lisa, a devout Scientologist, spent the last 17 days of her
confined to a room inside this hotel owned by Scientology.
records show that during that time, Lisa became violent, refusing
eat or sleep.
VO: The tragedy has left Lisa's
aunt and closest living relative,
Dell Liebreich, searching for
DELL LIEBREICH: I'm just very unhappy with
KRISTEN JEANNETTE-MYERS: do you think criminal charges
LIEBREICH: I definitely do. I definitely do. Because I
they killed her.
[pic of Lisa; Clearwater traffic]
Lisa's tragic saga began on November 18, 1995. She was driving
down this road
in Clearwater and got into a minor fender bender. No
one was hurt, but as a
precaution, paramedics responded.
[Bonnie Portalano stepping out of
VO: It was a routine call for Bonnie Portalano and her
until the bizarre happened.
BONNIE PORTALANO: Lisa and the
accident scene was behind our
ambulance. And he says, "You're never going to
guess what she's
doing," speaking of Lisa, and I said, "What?" And he said,
taking off her clothes."
[pic of Lisa]
VOICE OF BONNIE
PORTALANO: And it was like a few seconds later she
came walking down the side
of our ambulance with not a stitch on. As
I went to get her, you know, I
said, "Lisa, Lisa," you know, "Why did
you take your clothes off?"
[Bonnie Portalano, back on camera]
PORTALANO: And she said, "I
wanted people to think I was crazy so
then I could get some
[Morton Plant Hospital, hospital Patient Self-Release form signed
VO: Paramedics took Lisa to a nearby hospital. Doctors wanted
keep her overnight for observation, but Lisa said she wanted to
with a group of Scientologists who showed up at the
[Mike Rinder, Laura Vaughan]
VO: Mike Rinder is the director
of the Church of Scientology
International. Laura Vaughan is an attorney
LAURA VAUGHAN: What she told the people at the
hospital is, she
didn't want to stay. I think if the doctor could have kept
would have. But she expressed her desire to leave, and he had
right to keep her.
JEANNETTE-MEYERS (outside Ft. Harrison): Lisa's
friends brought her
here to the Fort Harrison Hotel, the spiritual
Scientology. She arrived in good physical condition. When she
two-and-a-half weeks later, she was near death. What happened to
McPherson during those 17 days has been the focus of an
two-year criminal investigation. Scientologists say the probe is
witch-hunt, but church critics see it as an opportunity to expose
they say is a dangerous cult.
DENNIS ERLICH: I was in it
for 15 years. I know that it is a cult.
[Older picture of Dennis, picture of L. Ron Hubbard]
VO: Dennis Erlich
says that during his days in Scientology, the
standard treatment for episodes
like Lisa McPherson's was isolation, a
step originally prescribed by
Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
ERLICH: The step consists of locking
a person in a room where they
cannot communicate with anyone. No one is to
communicate with them.
And they're to be kept there until they supposedly
come out of their
VAUGHAN: To an average person, we
think isolation, that means alone.
And there's nothing nefarious or wrong
about her being away from work
that might have been upsetting her, away from
family that might have
been upsetting her, with people from the church who
were with her 24
hours a day trying to get her to rest, trying to get her to
trying to help her in a way that was in accordance with her
[Ft. Harrison, copies of handwritten logs, picture
VO: The only glimpse into Lisa McPherson's 17 days at the
Harrison Hotel comes from logs kept by Scientologists who
assigned to keep watch over Lisa.
[selected portions of the logs
repeated in plain text underneath:
"She was out of control", "She refused to
incoherent", She was violent"]
Scientology's efforts to keep them confidential, the
courts have made them
public. The logs show Lisa's physical and
mental state deteriorating over
those 17 days.
JEANNETTE-MEYERS: Rest and relaxation
sounds like a wonderful idea.
But the records say that two days into her stay
she was spitting out
food and vomiting, four days into her stay she was ashen
feverish, and then she became violent, striking the
hallucinating, thinking that she's L. Ron Hubbard, being too weak
stand, soiling herself, crying, babbling, breaking things. At
point, isn't it clear that it's not working?
RINDER: What. s not
JEANNETTE-MEYERS: Resting, taking her away?
don't think that that's clear at all. I don't think that
you can draw
inferences or conclusions from what is said. You can
read other reports and
later on there is a different perspective.
JEANNETTE-MEYERS: But these
are the church records.
RINDER: Of course they are.
of those things might say to you, as a
non-Scientologist, this person should
be committed. But as a
Scientologist they would say that she's not to be
treated like that,
psychiatry is abuse, and that is their right to believe
psychiatry is abuse, it's Lisa McPherson's right to believe that
to not engage in it if she doesn't want to.
[Shirley Cage and Brenda
Spencer, two of Lisa. s friends]
VO: Shirley Cage and Brenda Spencer,
two of Lisa's closest friends in
the church, agree.
She would not have wanted to be treated by a
psychiatrist. I know that
JEANNETTE-MEYERS: Even if it would have saved her
SPENCER: Even without question. I don't care what the
were, she would not have wanted to be treated by a
[older pics of Lisa, pic of Lisa and her parents]
VO: When you look
through Lisa McPherson's photo album, there's no
hint of the tragedy to come.
She was pretty and popular, a member of
her high school drill team and a good
student. But when she was 14,
her brother committed suicide. Ten years later
her father, a
recovering alcoholic, did the same. So when a job
introduced Lisa to the Church of Scientology at the age of 18,
embraced it as a surrogate family.
LIEBRIECH: She came home one
day and told her mom and dad that she
had joined a church. Well, they were
elated. They thought that was
great. Until they found out what it
[pics of Lisa, CoS building in CW, Sea Org members walking
VO: Eventually Lisa even moved from her native Texas to
spiritual mecca in Clearwater, Florida. She joined a group
thousands who flock here every year to
attend courses and counseling
designed to overcome what they believe
are traumatic memories from previous
[statement of payments Lisa made to church--total $75,275;
picture of Lisa]
VO: In 1994, Lisa spent more than one half of her income on
courses. She worked for a publishing company with close ties to
church, and helped spearhead Scientology community projects. Even
vacations were taken on the Scientology cruise ship.
party, Lisa dancing]
SHIRLEY CAGE: She believed that that church was the most
thing in the world, and that the good that it was doing was
she wanted to be a part of, and she dedicated herself
[picture of Lisa receiving her Clear Certificate]
the fall of 1995 Scientology declared Lisa to be Clear, a
mental state the
church says promotes inner peace and happiness.
[picture of Lisa]
But what no one has been able to explain is how in two short
inner peace crumbled into emotional chaos.
[legal paper, part of which
says "Dell Liebreich, as Personal
Representative of the Estate of LISA
McPherson, Plaintiff, vs. Church
of Scientology d/b/a Church of Scientology,
Flag Service Organization,
VO: That answer may come out
through a wrongful death lawsuit the
McPherson family has filed against
VO: The case is being handled by attorney
Ken Dandar, who has his own
theory about what happened over those 17
KEN DANDAR: So could you imagine Lisa McPherson, who is
unstable according to Scientology, is having these people come in
try to force feed her, and she's yelling and screaming at them.
banging on the wall. She's fighting with them. She's asking
questions. But they are not allowed to respond to her. All they
do is turn around and walk out the room, and then write a report
the case supervisor and close the door behind them. And she's
allowed to leave.
RINDER: Dandar is an idiot. That's my response
to that. He hasn't
got a clue. He is the worst of the worst of what makes the
legal system so out of control. He is an ambulance chasing
DANDAR: My reply to that is simple: If they had called an
for Lisa McPherson, I wouldn't be here today.
[ Fort Harrison is about 1/2" south of Tarpon springs in above]
Harrison; map of Clearwater area including nearby cities, showing
cities between Clearwater and New Port Richey; picture of
DANDAR: She certainly would have made it to the hospital--it's only a few blocks down the road--alive, and where she would have been provided the appropriate care.
Scientologists never did call an ambulance. But on the 17th
day, Lisa was at
last taken to a hospital in a church van. It didn't
take Lisa to the closest
hospital, which was just a few blocks away,
or the second closest, or the
third, or even the fourth nearest for
that matter. Instead, they drove to New
Port Richey Hospital, 45
minutes away. And it was during those 45 minutes
that Lisa McPherson
JEANNETTE-MEYERS: Why was Lisa taken so far away when it was clear that she was ill?
Rinder says nothing, but looks very uncomfortable
VAUGHAN: I think that the answer to that question comes in the doctor who was at the New Port Richey Hospital was a Scientologist. Lisa McPherson had obviously had some mental problems, and I think that people thought that the best situation would be for her to see someone who was a Scientologist. The people at the hospital had no idea what had killed her. The people who were taking care of her did not know that she was going to die. It was an accident, and it was sudden.
WAYNE SHELUR: One of the first things that gave investigators great pause was the inordinate loss of weight on the part of Lisa McPherson.
VO: Wayne Shelur is with the Clearwater Police Department.
SHELUR: The paramedics who attended her at the scene of the wreck estimated her weight to be around 150 pounds. But once she was pronounced dead her weight at the time of death was 108 pounds and her appearance was rather cadaverous.
JEANNETTE-MEYERS: She lost more than 40 pounds in 17 days?
SHELUR: That's what it would appear.
[Autopsy report; death certificate; Fort Harrison; highlighted words from autopsy report "Bed rest and severe dehydration" ]
VO: An autopsy indeed showed that Lisa McPherson died of a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot that traveled to her lung. But according to the coroner. s office, it was caused in part by what happened during those 17 days. The autopsy report says Lisa's death was due to bed rest and severe dehydration.
Joan Wood in court room; footage of Lisa; autopsy photos of Lisa. s hands VO: In fact, the medical examiner, Dr. Joan Wood, theorized that Lisa McPherson had little to no fluids for the last five to ten days of her life. She also believes that Lisa had bruises and insect bites all over her body.
Scieno picket--signs say "Sid Klein, what. s your crime?", "Give protection, not prejudice", "Dead beat dads and child molesters stay home"
VO: The church, which says it will prove the lab findings are flawed, has taken to the streets to protest what they say is a smear campaign by the Clearwater government to discredit the church.
Fort Harrison; Clearwater courtroom
VO: Both sides now await a decision by a Florida prosecutor on possible criminal charges in the Lisa McPherson case, a decision that could come any day.
[Dell Liebreich and Kristin Jeannette-Meyers walking ]
VO: Meanwhile, Dell Liebreich's battle with Scientology is a civil matter that has turned decidedly uncivil.
RINDER: What her motivation is? Money. Pure and simple. She is pretending to represent the interests of Lisa McPherson. She is representing Lisa McPherson's estate. I can assure you that the last thing that Lisa McPpherson would be doing would be suing her church.
LIEBREICH: To them this is bad PR, but I want people to find out, you know, all over the world, for it not to ever happen to anybody else. What happened to Lisa.
[CW candlelight vigil, bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace" ]
BRYANT GUMBEL (in studio): Heber Jentzsch is the president of the Church of Scientology International. He's in Los Angeles. Mr. Jentzsch, good evening.
HEBER JENTZSCH (on TV studio monitor): Good evening.
GUMBEL: Those affiliated with Scientology ran an orchestrated campaign pressuring us to not run the piece you just watched. Do you not consider the mysterious death of a young woman in the care of Scientologists as a valid reason for outside questions?
JENTZSCH: I consider the fact that your people were given information, Bryant, that they did not put on the show, and there were various specific information that they could have used. Joan Wood, the medical examiner, she never did the autopsy on this case. And that was known to your people. It was done by a Dr. Davis, and he did the actual autopsy, OK? And in his autopsy, he said he did not agree with Joan Wood, the medical examiner. Davis did about 25 autopsies, 24 were completed. One was not completed. The reason that one, on Lisa McPherson, was not completed was because his notes were not available. They were not available because Joan Wood, the medical examiner, destroyed those notes. Then, she goes on national tabloid TV and starts blabbing about all these kinds of accusations and so forth. That is sickening to me. It is sickening that it has to be done that way when your people had the information. And then she says to Davis, who did--
GUMBEL: Mr. Jentzsch--
JENTZSCH: Let me finish this one point--
GUMBEL: Go ahead quickly.
JENTZSCH: She did not let Davis talk. She said, "Don't talk to the media, don. t talk to anybody about this. Don't talk to the church, don. t talk to the police." And she ordered him not to do so. That's obstruction of justice. That's just one of the things that she did. Your people had that. OK. Why is it that's not there?
GUMBEL: Mr. Jentzsch, your people were well represented in the piece throughout. Mike Rinder was well heard. Laura Vaughan was well heard. Let me ask you, your people had--your people had every right to intervene with Scientology principles. No one disputes that. But at what point, sir, does Miss McPherson have a right to say, "I've had enough, I want out"?
JENTZSCH: She didn't say that, and I have with me the psychiatric examination--
BRYANT: Your own--
JENTZSCH: Which was given here. She said--she said, I want to go home with my friends in the congregation. That. s what she said--
GUMBEL: That was before the 17 day stay at the hotel. Mr.--
JENTZSCH (holding up document): This is the document I have right here. This is the document, right here--
GUMBEL: Mr. Jentzsch, Mr. Jentzsch, your own logs show that she's fighting with your people, yelling at them, pleading with them, but they are not responding, not letting her leave. At what point, sir, does that become a legitimate case of someone being held against their will?
JENTZSCH (raising voice): Our people were helping her in every possible way. If you look at those notes, you will see very clearly that those people were heroes. They were taking abuse, they were attacked and so forth. They loved her. And the people who are saying these things hated her guts while she was a Scientologist. They hated her completely and they hate her in death. They--our people loved her, they respected her. And Lisa was a church member. She was always a church member--
GUMBEL: Mr. Jentzsch, even if I accept that those people loved her and wanted to take care of her, your own logs clearly depict a woman with a deteriorating mental condition and failing health. Do your people have no responsibility to have those maladies professionally addressed?
JENTZSCH: You're saying that a psychiatrist is going to do something which is gonna be better. You know, there s a case in Miami, Florida which dealt with this directly. And there was a fellow who was also dramatizing like this and carrying on. You know what they did to him? Eleven attendants jumped him. They threw a blanket around his head. They kneed him in the back, they knocked him down--
GUMBEL: I never mentioned a psychiatrist, Mr. Jentzsch--
JENTZSCH (raising voice): No, no, well I'm telling you because that's what, that. s what you're saying. You. re calling those people professionals. They. re not professionals--
GUMBEL: She was in failing physical health. Do they not have any responsibility to get maladies addressed?
JENTZSCH: The last--the last time when she was--she started to deteriorate, it was very rapid. They took her to a hospital. but those--those--you're saying it should be a psychiatrist. I'm saying that if they went to a psychiatrist, she would have been destroyed by them--
GUMBEL: I never mentioned the word "psychiatrist", sir--
JENTZSCH (raising voice more): I know, but you and I talked earlier today and I did mention it and you know that that's part of this case and you know that was part of the--the problem with this, okay? Psychiatrists destroy people's lives. They have the highest incidents of rape and so forth. She didn. t want to go there. It. s very clear--
GUMBEL: They have the highest incidents of rape?
JENTZSCH (raising voice more): Of any profession. There's 2,500 indictments against psychiatrists in this country last year alone. Why would you go to a bunch of people like that who use electric shock? And that causes brain damage. That destroys people lives. She didn't want to go there. She had a right not to go there with a psychiatrist--
GUMBEL: Heber Jentzsch--
JENTZSCH: This lady was taken care of. You know, Mr. Gumbel--
GUMBEL: Heber Jentzsch--
JENTZSCH: That situation down there is bigotry. And I told you about it. We have the information. The 11th circuit court of appeals said--
GUMBEL: Heber Jentzsch--
JENTZSCH: That there was--
GUMBEL: Thank you, sir--
JENTZSCH: There was a fervor against it. This is just incredible--
JENTZSCH: They said it was patently offensive--
GUMBEL: Sir, sir, I will have to let that be the last word--
JENTZSCH: I' m sorry. But, you know--
GUMBEL: Thank you. We'll be right back.
[webmaster's note: the Lisa McPherson Trust maintains an extensive video archive on Scientology. Please visit their website at http://lisatrust.net/Media/index.html
to view their collection.]