Scientologists facing protest
CLEARWATER, December 4, 1999--Protesters from all over the nation and some foreign countries are gathering to picket the Church of Scientology's World Headquarters at the Ft.Harrison Hotel. It's all in memory of Lisa McPherson who died four years ago while under the care of fellow Scientologists at the Fort Harrison Hotel.
Scientologists are adding some color of their own to this year's protests--they're painting the town orange. The orange marks are intended to show Scientology critic Bob Minton just how close he can come to 17 church properties in Clearwater. Friday a judge ordered Minton to stay ten feet away.
The judge also told a Scientologist Minton recently scuffled with to stay 20 feet from Minton.
Clearwater's Police Chief Sid Klein says his officers won't have tape measures on their gunbelts this weekend, but they will enforce the judge's orders.
Protesters have various activities through the weekend planned at the Holiday Inn on U.S. 19 just north of State Road 60. They're also planning a Saturday evening candlelight vigil just north of the Fort Harrison Hotel starting at 7 p.m.
Scientologists are keeping a low profile this year. One high ranking church leader says the community just wants to move beyond discussion of Lisa McPherson's death.
According to the Associated Press, lawyers for the Church of Scientology have given the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner new evidence on the 1995 death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson.
The evidence turned over to Joan Wood, the examiner, casts doubt on her original opinion: that McPherson was severely dehydrated when she died while in the care of Scientology staffers, claim lawyers for the church.
Scientology's evidence includes sworn statements from laboratory employees involved in the original testing of McPherson's eye fluid, a clear, jelly-like substance used by medical examiners to assess a body's condition at death.
It includes other scientific information that, according to the church, shows McPherson's death had nothing to do with dehydration.
Wood originally listed the manner of McPherson's death as ``undetermined." She said it is possible her review could lead to a finding of accidental death.
``We're in a search here for the truth," Wood said this week. ``If the numbers are not right, we need to find that out ... I think it's to their advantage and ours to get to the bottom of this."
Wood said she will review the materials and will join a church-hired toxicologist in testing a second sample of McPherson's eye fluid, which has been stored by Wood's office since the autopsy.
That test could take place as early as next week at a lab near Philadelphia.
If Wood were to alter her original determination, ``that might change the entire playing field," said Lee Fugate, a lawyer representing Scientology.
Doug Crow, the lead prosecutor in the criminal case against Scientology, declined to comment.
The results of the first eye fluid test in January 1996 led Wood to the conclusion that McPherson likely was unconscious for up to 48 hours before her death and likely went without liquids for five to 10 days.
Wood told reporters McPherson died slowly, contradicting Scientology lawyers who were saying then that McPherson's death was sudden and caused by a staph infection.
McPherson was hospitalized in December 1995 after police found her disoriented following a fender bender. Several Scientologists showed up at the hospital and checked her out against doctor's advice.
Scientologists kept McPherson in the hotel room blocks from the hospital for another 13 days. She was eventually taken to another hospital 45 minutes away and pronounced dead from a blood clot.
If the church is found guilty of the charges _ abuse or neglect of a disabled adult, a second-degree felony, and unauthorized practice of medicine, a third-degree felony _ it will face a fine of no more than $15,000.
The church also faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed by McPherson's family.
The Associated Press contributed to this story
Includes several pictures:
1. Picture of picketers.
2. Picture of orange dots with the caption, "These lines, painted by the Scientologists, are intended to show Bob Minton and other protestors the distance they are to keep."
3. Picture from video of Minton's altercation with the Scieno who was following him all day with the caption, "Minton's scuffle was captured on video."
4. Another picture of picketers.