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|Born||February 10, 1959|
|Died||December 5, 1995 (aged 36)|
|Born||February 10, 1959|
|Died||December 5, 1995 (aged 36)|
Lisa McPherson (February 10, 1959 – December 5, 1995) was a member of the Church of Scientology who died of a pulmonary embolism while under the care of the Flag Service Organization (FSO), a branch of the Church of Scientology. Following the report of the state of Florida's medical examiner that indicated that Lisa was a victim of negligent homicide, the Church of Scientology was indicted on two felony charges, "abuse and/or neglect of a disabled adult" and "practicing medicine without a license."
The charges against the Church of Scientology were dropped after the state's medical examiner changed the cause of death from "undetermined" to an "accident" on June 13, 2000. A civil suit brought by her family against the Church was settled on May 28, 2004.
In 1994, Lisa McPherson, who became a Scientology adherent at age 18, moved from Dallas, Texas, to Clearwater, Florida, with her employer, AMC Publishing, which was at that time owned by Bennetta Slaughter and operated and staffed primarily by Scientologists. During June 1995, the church placed Lisa in an "introspection rundown" due to perceived mental instability. Lisa completed the rundown, and she attested to the state of Clear in September.
On November 18, 1995, McPherson was involved in a minor car accident. Paramedics initially left her alone because she was ambulatory, but after she began to remove her clothes, the paramedics decided to take her to the hospital. At one point she remarked that she had taken off her clothes in hopes of obtaining counseling. Hospital staff agreed that she was unharmed, but recommended keeping her overnight for observation. Following intervention by fellow Scientologists, McPherson refused psychiatric observation or admission at the hospital and checked herself out after a short evaluation.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Frank Quesada concluded:
Lisa McPherson refused psychiatric observation or admission at the hospital; she expressly stated her desire to receive the religious care and assistance from her fellow congregants that she and they wanted her to have.
McPherson was then taken to the Flag Land Base for "rest and relaxation" according to the Church of Scientology, but sworn statements demonstrate that McPherson was brought there for another introspection rundown.
My understanding now is, from talking to many, many witnesses, the purpose of her being there in the Church, correct me if I'm wrong, she was experiencing some mental problems, and you guys were going to stabilize her through an isolation watch. And after that watch occurred, there was going to be a procedure run on her, and the procedure was an introspection rundown.
The church accommodated McPherson in a cabana and kept a "24 hours' watch" over her. Detailed logs were kept on McPherson’s day-to-day care. These logs were handwritten on plain white paper. Most of these logs were kept but the logs for the last three days were summarized from the originals and the originals shredded. Brian J. Anderson, the then Commanding Officer of the Church's Office of Special Affairs (OSA) in Clearwater, said in his sworn statement:
I saw the handwritten notes, gave a cursory look to see if the summary—see if they matched and matched, and I threw the handwritten reports in my shred basket, and I had the report, kept the report.
McPherson’s "care logs" narrate the last 17 days of her life: McPherson was incoherent and sometimes violent, her nails were cut so she wouldn’t scratch herself or the staff, she bruised her fists and feet while hitting the wall. She had trouble sleeping and was being given natural supplements and the drug chloral hydrate to help her sleep. She looked sick and developed sores; "She looked ill like measles or chicken pox on her face." On repeated occasions she refused food and protein shakes that the staff offered. On the 26th, 30th, 3rd and 4th the staff attempted to force feed her, noting that she spat the food out. She was noted to be very weak, not standing up nor on some days moving at all. Scientologists who questioned this handling were told to "butt out".
On December 5, 1995, the Church staffers contacted David Minkoff, a Scientologist medical doctor who twice prescribed drugs (Valium and chloral hydrate) for McPherson without seeing her. They requested for him to prescribe an antibiotic to McPherson because she seemed to have an infection. Minkoff refused and stated that McPherson should be taken to a hospital and he needed to see her before prescribing anything. They objected, expressing fear that McPherson would be put under psychiatric care. Janice Johnson stated that Lisa had been gasping and had labored breathing while en route. However they passed a total of four hospitals along the way to their ultimate destination. When they arrived at Minkoff's hospital 45 minutes north of Clearwater McPherson arrived without vital signs. They worked on her for about 20 minutes trying to resuscitate her, giving her CPR and antibiotics, but to no avail. She was then declared dead.
Scientologists called McPherson’s family to say that she had died of meningitis or a blood clot on December 5, 1995 while at Fort Murray for “rest and relaxation”. A suspicious death investigation began the next day and an autopsy was performed. A year later, in response to a Clearwater Police Department website request for information on her death, Clearwater media began speculating about the causes of McPherson’s death.
On December 5, 1995 McPherson’s autopsy was accomplished by assistant medical examiner Robert Davis. Davis never completed McPherson’s autopsy report because he was asked to resign from his position. The autopsy report was completed by his supervisor medical examiner Joan Wood.
The report identified the cause of death of Lisa McPherson as a thromboembolism of the left pulmonary artery caused by "bed rest and severe dehydration" and the manner of death as "undetermined". The report also identified multiple hematomas (bruises), an abrasion on the nose and lesions consistent with "insect/animal bites" in the right lower arm just above the wrist.
On January 21, 1997, Wood went public on the TV show Inside Edition and stated that the autopsy showed McPherson had deteriorated slowly, going without fluids for five to 10 days, was underweight, had cockroach bites and was comatose from 24 to 48 hours before she died.
The Church of Scientology legal team proceeded to sue Joan Wood to gain access to Wood's files; including tissue, organ and blood samples from McPherson's body. The lawsuit argued that Wood waived any right to keep her records on the case closed when she spoke openly about the case with news reporters. The Church alleged that the records were needed to start their legal defense. These records were previously denied to the Church because they were part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
The St. Petersburg Times contacted five medical experts for their opinions about the report, and they confirmed Wood's opinion. The Church of Scientology responded that the five doctors should have been given the entire autopsy report, not just the vitreous fluid tests, which pathologists use to determine the composition of blood at the time before death.
Scientology hired its own team to oppose Wood’s findings, including two nationally known forensic pathologists: Dr. Michael Baden, a former Chief Medical Examiner for the City of New York, and Dr. Cyril Wecht, a county coroner from Pittsburgh. Doctors Baden and Wecht concluded that McPherson, 36, died suddenly and unpredictably of a blood clot in her left lung that originated from a knee bruise she suffered in a minor automobile accident 17 days earlier.
This scientific evidence was then sent to Joan Wood for review. The scientific evidence sent to Wood included:
Due to the vitreous fluid tests, they maintained that she was dehydrated. Chemical pathologists Calvin Bandt and Werner Spitz concurred with the initial coroner's report in their affidavits. Plaintiff witness Dr. Alan Wu also testified that ketones need not be present for dehydration in a special case like McPherson where she was fed proteins and therefore didn't create measurable ketones. The plaintiffs maintained that Lisa did lose water weight to result in 108 pounds (49 kg) with respect to the vitreous fluid.
In light of the new scientific evidence provided by the church, a review was mandated by the policy manual which says the medical examiner will "readdress key issues" in a case if "credible new evidence is presented, regardless of its source."
Wood’s review caused the review and dismissal of the Lisa McPherson’s death criminal case. The review was done by assistant State Attorney Douglas Crow and is outlined in the 31 page memo that he sent to State Attorney Bernie McCabe recommending to drop the criminal case against the Church of Scientology.
Crow stated that there were credibility issues with the original autopsy, including that Wood had signed the autopsy herself five months after Davis' departure, failed to examine tissue samples and did not consult clinical experts before reaching her conclusion. He also pointed out to other mistakes done by Wood like releasing the autopsy report on an active criminal case and going public on national media.
Medical examiner Robert Davis changed his testimony from 1997 deposition given in the civil case to strongly disagree that Lisa was severely dehydrated. Also he made a series of accusations against the Medical Examiner's Office's handling of the case and questioned their motive. Davis stated that Wood was not present during the autopsy and did not consult him when she signed the autopsy.
Crow noted that the failure by Medical Examiner's Office to follow its own policies to preserve evidence, releasing the body for cremation before a cause of death had been determined and destroying Davis’ autopsy notes will be used to attack Wood’s credibility.
The primary reason Wood gave for changing her findings was her realization that the microscopic slides of the popliteal vein and the photographs of muscle tissue in the surrounding area provided evidence of trauma which could explain the thrombus formation. She could not explain why she had not seen this before.
Crow was highly critical of Wood in his memo stating:
Her explanations concerning the reasoning behind the changes have been illogical and inconsistent. She vacillated in her conclusions even as she prepared the amended certificate. After talking to Joe Davis she executed a notarized change in the death certificate to accident and removed dehydration and bed rest as causative factors. She then reconsidered that decision and resolved to change the manner of death to homicide with dehydration listed as one of multiple factors and then again changed her mind the next morning, deciding to follow Joe Davis' initial advice.—Douglas E. Crow
Crow also mentioned a unique set of circumstances that put Wood under tremendous pressure and might have affected the quality of her judgment. These being:
Crow concluded that even though there was probable cause, the actions and testimony of Wood had so muddied the facts that there wasn’t enough credible evidence to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt, and recommended the dismissal of all charges.
While nothing in the review has caused me to believe that the central premises behind the prosecution are erroneous, our ability to establish these necessary facts beyond a reasonable doubt has clearly been compromised. 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. Douglas E. Crow
As a result of the controversy surrounding the death of Lisa McPherson, the Church of Scientology now requires members to sign a general release form each time they register for a new service, whereby they make certain agreements, such as acknowledging that Scientology is a religion and not intended to treat medical issues, promising not to sue the Church for any reason unless criminal negligence is assured or disavowing psychiatric treatment. In the event a Scientologist is involuntarily placed into a psychiatric ward or institution, the form also grants permission to allow the church to intervene on their behalf and have them released into the care of other Scientologists in order to undergo the Introspection Rundown or any other Scientology services deemed necessary.
During the civil suit against the Church of Scientology brought by McPherson's family members, an injunction was sought and obtained to keep the Scientology-critical film The Profit from being shown to avoid prejudicing the jury pool against Scientology.