Court TV, 18 December 1997
On Thu, 18 Dec 1997 23:18:18 GMT, firstname.lastname@example.org (Robert S. Minton)
>P.S. The church of scientology is thrashing about in desperate ill advised
>attempts to supress the press stories surrounding the McPherson case and
>stories showing the extent to which they will go to harass and intimidate
>critics. Miscavige, I hope you have room on your boat for a limited number
>of trusted advisors. The rest will surely be testifying before the grand
For those who missed it or can't get Court TV, here's the transcript
of the show:
VOICEOVER: The Church of Scientology is accused of killing a woman.
A lawsuit claims a member of the controversial church was held against
her will for 17 days at a church retreat and then died.
GREGG JARRETT: That civil lawsuit for wrongful death is pending right
now, but now comes a new challenge. The police in Clearwater, FL have
just finished a two year investigation of the very same case and they
are recommending criminal prosecution.
[picture of Lisa]
VO: It all began when 36-year-old Lisa McPherson was picked up by
paramedics after a minor auto accident walking down the street naked.
GJ: Once at the hospital, she was released into the care of seven
Scientologists, whose religion opposes psychiatry. McPherson was
taken to the church retreat where she spent most of the next 17 days
inside a room, the room in which she almost died. The medical
examiner says McPherson was deprived of water for at least her last
5-10 days and died of a blood clot brought on by severe dehydration.
She was dead at the hospital. A Scientology lawyer I spoke with says
the blood clot was caused by the traffic accident 17 days earlier. So
whos to blame, if anybody at all? And what happened to Lisa
McPherson? Joining us now live in Tampa, FL is Ken Dandar, the lawyer
representing the estate of Lisa McPherson and who filed the wrongful
death lawsuit. And in our New York news room is Laura Vaughan, the
attorney defending the Church of Scientology. Thank you both for
being with us. Ms. Vaughan, first to you, what happened to Lisa
McPherson during those 17 days?
LAURA VAUGHAN (reps Church of Scientology, NEW YORK, NY): Well,
somewhat of a long story. There have been reports that have been made
a part of the public record, but Lisa McPherson had a psychotic
episode. She strongly opposes psychiatry as would any Scientologist
of 13 years and she asked to not be committed to a psychiatric
institution at the hospital and to leave with her friends, fellow
parishioners from the Church. She did, and for a period of 17 days a
number of women, fellow parishioners from the Church, stayed with her
on a 24 hour basis. Ms. McPherson was mentally disturbed, she was
psychotic, she had difficulties with sequitur speech and a number of
things, and these women stayed with her on a 24 hour basis attending
to her physical needs and doing everything that they could to help her
deal with her problems--
GJ: Look, I looked at the 33 pages of notes here, the handwritten
logs by those individuals youre referring to, the workers there who
cared for her for 24 hours, and heres what you find: "Spitting out
food, vomiting, ashen, feverish, violent, striking her attendants,
banging on the walls, soiled herself, hallucinated"--and then we get
to the hospital 17 days later and she has lost roughly 47 lb from the
time that a paramedic took her to the hospital. She was thin, dirty,
unkempt, scratches, bruises on her arms and legs, and of course she
was dead. Isnt there some legal duty that your clients owed to this
woman, to get her medical care? Im not talking about psychiatric
LV: First of all, I disagree with your characterization. You pulled
out little bits and pieces here and there, and I--I strongly disagree
with the amount of weight she lost, I disagree with what happened
during those 17 days. She was psychotic, though, and there was no
question that she engaged in psychotic behavior. But these women
stayed with her and attempted to do everything to help her. They
bathed her; there were times when she refused to use the toilet, and
they helped--they changed her clothes when she did that. But
ultimately what she died of 17 days later was a pulmonary embolism,
and I think if you have decided that in this case--
GJ: Brought on by what?
LV: Brought on by trauma. And we will have medical experts--
GJ: What trauma?
LV: To testify that there was some trauma, possibly from the car
accident, because if you look at the clinical history, that was the
factor that existed at the time--it could have been caused by the car
accident, it could have predated her stay at the Ft. Harrison Hotel.
GJ: All right--
LV: But it was certainly 2-4 weeks prior to the injury, and thats
what caused her death.
GJ: Ken Dandar, what killed her?
KEN DANDAR (sued Church of Scientology, Says church killed his client,
TAMPA, FL): The treatment that Scientology rendered to Lisa McPherson
killed her. The treatment--
GJ: Were they negligent, reckless, or did they intentionally kill her
in your view?
KD: Well, when they first forced her into isolation before the car
accident, they forced her into isolation according to the Scientology
rules and regulations to help her snap out of what they thought was a
psychotic break. After she escaped, she had her car accident. They
convinced her to come back to the hotel, the Ft. Harrison Hotel in
Clearwater, and after a few days of that treatment at the Ft. Harrison
Hotel, their own records indicate that shes acting bizarre. She
wasnt acting bizarre in the emergency room, shes acting bizarre
after the Scientologists grabbed her and brought her back to the
hotel. And then shes incapable of walking, shes in bed, shes
restrained at times according to the Scientology records because shes
fighting them, shes banging on the walls. And this girl had
absolutely no bruises on her, no marks, no injuries, on December--or
November 18, 1995. On December 5, when they bring her to the hospital
45 minutes away, she has bruises on her back, on the bottom of her
feet. She has a bloody chin, a bloody nose, and shes dead on
arrival. Scientology went beyond negligence and willfully and
intentionally watched her die after following their so-careful
treatment that they say they gave her.
JAMI FLOYD, COURT TV CO-ANCHOR: Laura Vaughan, your response to that,
and in that response, please answer Greggs question--what about
medical care? Putting aside the issue of psychiatric treatment and
the beliefs of the Church in that regard, why not provide her with
medical care and were these Scientologists, as Mr. Dandar suggests, at
LV: First, my first response is that Ken Dandar has yet to depose one
witness who stayed with Lisa McPherson for those 17 days, has yet to
ask the first question about what happened to her during that time
period. And whats lost in this whole thing is that these women--Lisa
McPherson was psychotic. And if you went to a psychiatric institution
right now and had to spend some time with a person who is psychotic,
you would find that they often speak in non sequiturs, that they are
violent at times, that she refused food at times. But these women, at
great personal sacrifice, stayed with her. They tried to feed her,
they cared for her, they changed her clothes--
JF: But they could not cure her--
LV: All these women did try to help her--
JF: They could not cure her, and those other folks youre talking
about are folks who most often are treated, medically and perhaps
LV: Lets talk about curing her. You, as a--um, I really dont know
what your religion is; Im not a Scientologist and I think normal
Judeo-Christian, in the normal Judeo-Christian world you may or may
not believe in psychiatric treatment, but it isnt a religious--there
isnt a religious prohibition to it. Curing Lisa McPherson--as, as
youve indicated what should have been done with her would be to take
her to a psychiatric institution. Lisa McPherson, during the time
that she was with the Church of Scientology, if taken to--for
treatment, would have been taken for psychiatric treatment. It is her
constitutional right to refuse psychiatric treatment. It was her
constitutional right when she made that decision in the hospital. It
remained her right to refuse psychiatric treatment. And certainly now
after the fact, Mr. Dandar cannot say that the Church was somehow
negligent and certainly not criminally responsible for failing to give
her psychiatric treatment--
GJ: Right--lets pause here for just a moment. Were going to
continue this discussion. Im not sure weve really gotten a straight
answer--did the Church of Scientology owe a duty of care for medical
treatment of one of those who was literally in their care? Well be
right back to answer that question.
[picture of Lisa]
VO: Lisa McPherson died during the 17 days she spent in a room at a
Church of Scientology retreat.
GJ: A civil lawsuit claims she was a prisoner there, so severely
mistreated she died of a blood clot caused by severe dehydration.
Police are now recommending a criminal prosecution, but the church
insists it did nothing wrong, that her death was a terrible accident.
Lets go to Ray Brown, veteran criminal defense attorney and our
colleague here at Court TV. Ray, what does the law say about a case
RAY BROWN, COURT TV ANCHOR, NEW YORK, NY: Gregg, there are two legal
principles we ought to keep in mind in these matters. One is fairness
or due process, the other is duty. Fairness requires that we keep in
mind that Scientology has been attacked many times and in many places,
and you have to look carefully when charges are made against unpopular
organizations. But, on the other hand, when you come to duty, Ms.
Vaughan keeps talking about the fact that McPherson was psychotic.
That doesnt answer the question, it poses it. A psychotic person is
out of touch with reality, the equivalent of a child. So if you have
care of a psychotic person for 17 days, you have some questions to
answer in terms of your duty. If the person would have died no matter
what, what can you say? But if, on the other hand, there was a
failure to give her the care required of a helpless child, then there
may be serious problems in the civil case now pending or the criminal
litigation that may be to come.
GJ: Laura Vaughan, how do you respond?
LV: Ill answer your question. The reason that I was talking about
psychiatric treatment was because when there--there was no indication
that Lisa McPherson had a medical condition that was going to cause
her death, and I think you need to look a few places and you can see
that the evidence so far in the record that is part of the public
record indicates that. She died of a thrombus of her left popliteal
vein with no external signs or symptoms of that.
[picture of Lisa]
LV: That means that these parishioners who were with her had no idea
that she had a thrombus that ultimately turned into an embolus. Prior
to that, prior to the time that she appeared to be ill, it was a
psychiatric condition that she had which brings up another legal
issue: Does the Church have a duty to take her to see a psychiatrist,
and if youre saying that they had a duty to take her somewhere prior
to that, you are imposing a duty to take a woman to a psychiatrist who
had 1) made an affirmative decision that she did not want to see a
psychiatrist in accordance with her religious beliefs, and also
imposing a duty on the Church of Scientology to go against her wishes
and seek psychiatric treatment, which would be against their religious
beliefs as well.
GJ: Ken Dandar, you say that the Church willfully and intentionally
killed her. Why would they want her dead?
KD: As bizarre as this sounds, the Church of Scientology will let a
member die before they face bad public relations, according to their
own copyrighted books on rules and regulations of Scientology. Here
is a Scientologist who took off her clothes in public and said to the
paramedics, "Dont worry, Im not crazy. I took off my clothes
because I need help, I need to talk to someone." And this has caused
great public relations problems with Scientology. On December 1,
1995--and by the way, I did take the deposition of a medical doctor
who is a Scientologist on staff, and unfortunately that doctor pled
the Fifth Amendment, so when they start pleading the Fifth Amendment,
I cant ask any more questions. Now--
JF: But, but Ken Dandar, certainly the worst public relations
disaster is death of this woman.
KD: Well, why did they take her to a hospital 45 minutes away to a
fellow Scientologist when shes in a coma from severe dehydration,
rather than a few blocks down the road to the Morton Plant Hospital
where all the Scientologists go? Theres only one common sense
logical conclusion--to cover it all up.
GJ: Well if they want her dead, if they want her dead, why take such
fastidious notes, 33 pages--although, Ill point out, and its
important to know--the last two days of the notes, the two days,
critical days that led to her death, they are suddenly and magically
KD: The Scientologists are meticulous on taking notes. The rules
are, you must take notes on Isolation, minute by minute. Theres more
than just a few days missing. The last 2-1/2 days of her life are
missing. They claimed they searched the world to find these last
2-1/2 days. The question is, why did you have to search at all? Why
arent these records with the rest of these records?
KD: There are a lot of records missing.
RB: Gregg, I think the real, ultimate question is gonna be whether
the Scientologists can answer questions not about psychiatric care but
about whether this woman, who appears to have lost substantial weight
and had other problems, got adequate medical care.
JF: And Raymond Brown, it seems were hearing two very extreme views
here, but isnt there a possibility that the fact, the true fact, lies
somewhere in the middle?
RB: Thats true, thats why a civil case may be more difficult for
the Scientologists than a criminal case. But remember, there are
degrees of negligent homicide as well as homicide with intent.
JF: All right. Thank you to all of our guests.
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