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Lisa McPherson case: events leading to the death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson

At a ceremony at the Fort Harrison Hotel in September 1995, Lisa McPherson was designated “clear,’’ meaning that through Scientology counseling, she had rid herself of all interference from troubling memories buried in her subconscious. Two months later she had a nervous breakdown. After 17 days in Scientology’s care, she was dead.

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At a ceremony at the Fort Harrison Hotel in September 1995, Lisa McPherson was designated “clear,’’ meaning that through Scientology counseling, she had rid herself of all interference from troubling memories buried in her subconscious. Two months later she had a nervous breakdown. After 17 days in Scientology’s care, she was dead.

LISA MCPHERSON TIMELINE: This is part of a St. Petersburg Times special report on Scientology. For the full report, see tampabay.com/scientology .

1994: Lisa McPherson, a longtime Scientologist, moves from Dallas to Clearwater with her employer, AMC Publishing. The company is operated and staffed mostly by Scientologists who want to be close to the church's spiritual headquarters.

September 1995: In a ceremony at the Fort Harrison Hotel, Lisa McPherson is publicly declared "clear," a state in which a Scientologist is said to be free of inhibitions caused by painful images in the subconscious. In her last five years, McPherson spent more than $175,000 on Scientology counseling. She is 36.

Nov. 18, 1995: After a minor traffic accident, Lisa McPherson takes off her clothes and tells a paramedic: "I need help. I need to talk to someone." She is taken to Morton Plant Hospital for psychiatric evaluation but signs out against a doctor's advice. Church members take her to the Fort Harrison. Supervising her medical care was Janis Johnson, who was not licensed to practice medicine in Florida and whose license was restricted in Arizona.

Dec. 5, 1995: After 17 days, the Scientologists caring for Lisa McPherson worry that she has become seriously ill. They drive her to a hospital in New Port Richey — past four closer hospitals — so she can be seen by Dr. David Minkoff, a Scientologist who works in the ER. McPherson is not breathing, has no heartbeat and is gaunt, bruised and unkempt. Minkoff pronounces her dead. There is no local obituary and no public police report of her death.

Dec. 16, 1996: News of Lisa McPherson's death leaks out. The church's version of what happened: She checked into the Fort Harrison Hotel for "rest and relaxation" and "suddenly fell ill."

January 1997: The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement join Clearwater Police in the investigation. Medical examiner Joan Wood tells reporters there is no way Lisa McPherson "suddenly fell ill."

Feb. 19, 1997: In Tampa, Lisa McPherson's relatives file a wrongful death lawsuit against the Church of Scientology, alleging that Scientologists allowed McPherson to languish in a coma without nutrition and liquids while she was held in isolation at the Fort Harrison Hotel.

Nov. 13, 1998: After reviewing the Lisa McPherson case for 11 months, State Attorney Bernie McCabe charges the Church of Scientology with two felonies: practicing medicine without a license and abuse of a disabled adult.

February 2000: After reviewing medical information provided by Scientology, Wood changes Lisa McPherson's death certificate. She amends the manner of death from "undetermined" to "accident."

June 12, 2000: His review complete, McCabe drops the charges, noting that Wood's change of opinion undercuts the state's requirement to prove a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt.

May 26, 2004: The church and the estate of Lisa McPherson reach a settlement. The terms are confidential.

LISA MCPHERSON CARETAKER NOTES: 17 days at the Fort Harrison in Clearwater

From Nov. 18 to Dec. 5, 1995, Scientology staffers who monitored Lisa McPherson around the clock kept logs. Marty Rathbun, who managed the fallout from the case for the church, now admits that he ordered the last two days of logs destroyed. He feared they incriminated the church. Here are excerpts from the logs that were not destroyed:

Nov. 18

2:45 p.m. Lisa is talking since about 30 minutes: "I created time 3 Billion years ago and now I am dramatizing it since then … I am LRH and I didn't confront it because I didn't confront that power … I want to dance. … I need my auditor … I need to confront my mom.''

3:15 p.m. She is still talking non stop. She tried to go out of the door.

Nov. 19

This afternoon Lisa walked like a robot. What is new: if she starts talking she talks and talks, then she stares at a spot; She also tries to push buttons on me (what she never did before). She says I am her and she is controlling my body. She kissed me on my mouth. Once I let her sit outside for 5 minutes.

... She took my arm and put it on her tummy and went with her tongue over my face. I brought her back to bed.

Nov. 20

She has difficulties even to swallow a bit of water. She got 2 sip of protein drink down. Right now she is again jumping out of the bed over and over.

Nov. 22

I went into the room + she was totally Type III. Blabbering, incoherent non stop. Shaking, no warm clothes on — a bra top + shorts + shoes — no socks. She fell asleep for 4 hours + got up. I finally chased her around the place 50 times + got on slacks + tee shirt, jacket, socks + shoes. She was like an ice cube.

She talked incoherently hour after hour. She refused to eat + spit out everything she took. Her breathe was foul. She looked like measles and chicken pox on her face. Had a fever to my touch.

After 1 pm she went violent + hit me a few times telling me in a rage she was to kill me #s of times. I called in the "guard'' outside … He stayed with me during the rage— but she still smacked me around. (I did cover + guard myself but she was out of control).

Nov. 30

9 pm - 1 am. Awake. On floor scooting around, moving arms + legs + speaking + groaning.

1:30 - 5:00. I probably got the equivalent of 3 Valarian root caps into her. It took 4 feedings over a 4 ½ hour period. She will appear to be very cooperative — hold her mouth open, make eye contact, act as if she is there, then close the back of her throat + not swallow. … My idea of closing her nose so she has to swallow so she can breathe through her mouth is only marginally successful.

9:15 am I got a small amount of the banana + shake mixture into her + about an ounce of tea. She is much more physically strong this a.m. She sits up frequently + for long periods of time. Whereas yesterday I only saw her sit up once — she was lying on the floor scooting around. She is using her legs to kick again. Yesterday it wasn't much of a threat.

P.P.S. Lisa has come uptone — she was apathetic yesterday — physically + in her comm. — just a couple spurts of anger + not very determined at that. This a.m. she is deliberate + nasty — even evil.

Dec. 2

1 am - 3 am I gave her 4 Valarian root capsules, 4 Orinthane (not positive of the name — haven't seen the bottle, but it is one of the herbal sleeping preparations) and approx 6 oz of cal mag.

She has gotten drowsy from time to time but at 3 AM is still awake + talking.

We also cut her fingernails. This will reduce the risk of scratches to herself + us. She has scratches and abrasions all over her body + on elbows + knees has pressure sores. None of them are open + none of them look infected.

8 am. ... I will give her more of the herbal sleep preparations + will be in comm with Janice later about other measures to ensure she gets some serious sleep today.

The finances for her protein drinks ran out last night. I was in comm a security guard who said the source of the money was Lisa's employer + he thought he could get more this morning.

Dec. 3

1:00 - 1:30 a.m. Tried to feed her again but wouldn't take anything. She thought we were psychos or other enemies who wanted to kill her.

10 a.m. She slept most of the time — several hours of really good deep sleep. When she awakened this a.m. she was very confused + combative ...

2 p.m. Appears to be awakening. She has tried to stand several times but is not strong enough yet. I am going to feed her some mashed banana + protein powder. Have been in comm /c security re getting more money for her.

3 p.m. She is resting now. She originated that she knows we are trying to help her although she doesn't know our names and we don't talk to her. The rest of her comm. is the usual confused stuff. She also had a couple oz's of water. Body wise she is very restful + gentle. She has tried to stand a couple of times but is not strong enough.

6:30 p.m. Fixing more bananna + protein powder + half + half.

Lisa McPherson case: events leading to the death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson 06/21/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 21, 2009 10:29pm]

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