Doctor details Scientologist's death

The Tampa Tribune/January 23, 1997

By Cheryl Waldrip

Clearwater -- Medical tests indicate Lisa McPherson was without fluids for at least five to 10 days of her stay at the Church of Scientology's world spiritual headquarters.

Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Joan Wood said it's possible McPherson, who died in December 1995, had nothing to drink throughout her 17-day stay at the Fort Harrison Hotel.

Wood said Wednesday the insect bites found on McPherson's body after her death were most likely from cockroaches. In addition, Wood said McPherson was comatose for the last 24 to 48 hours of her life.

Scientology attorney Elliot Abelson Wednesday said none of that is true and called Wood a liar.

Church members brought McPherson, 36, to a New Port Richey hospital on Dec. 5, 1995, where she was dead on arrival. An autopsy by Wood's office showed McPherson died of a blood clot brought on by "severe dehydration and bed rest." She was 5-foot-9 and weighed 108 pounds. She had a staph infection and her arms and legs were bruised.

"It's horrible," McPherson's aunt, Dell Liebriech, said Wednesday. "Not even an animal should be treated like that. It's very devastating. It makes me sick to think about it."

McPherson's family members blame the Church of Scientology for her death.

Clearwater police say McPherson's death is suspicious. As part of their investigation, they are seeking three former Scientology staff members for questioning. All three have left the country.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office are assisting in the investigation.

Abelson has said the Clearwater police investigation is a continuation of a long campaign of harassment against the church. A church publication also has said news media reports about the McPherson case have been "fabricated."

Abelson said Wood made up all of the medical evidence.

"Dr. Wood is a liar, she's a liar, she's a liar, she's a hateful liar," Abelson said.

Abelson said medical experts whom he refused to identify said roaches don't bite humans. He could not offer an alternative explanation for the bites.

McPherson had been a Scientologist for 18 years. On Nov. 18, 1995, she had a minor car accident. Paramedics found her walking down the street without her clothes and took her to Morton Plant Hospital for an evaluation.

With Scientologists at her bedside, she spoke in a monotone through teary eyes. Doctors said she was not injured, but had a psychological problem. She signed herself out against medical advice and went with other Scientologists to the Fort Harrison Hotel.

Scientology officials say she was taken there for "rest and relaxation."

McPherson was provided with water, food and vitamins every day of her stay, Abelson said.

Asked why she became so dehydrated, Abelson said, "I'm not sure she was all that dehydrated. She probably wasn't drinking as much as she should have."

He said the staph infection could be responsible for some dehydration and the appearance of bruising.

Wood said the infection "absolutely did not" cause the bruising and was not responsible for McPherson's death.

At some point during McPherson's stay at the hotel, Abelson said, she was pounding on the walls of her room with her fists. "We really don't know what caused her to do that," Abelson said.

He said McPherson was not unconscious on the day of her death.

"I know she was not comatose on the day of her death because [Scientology] staff people talked to her," he said.

He said McPherson asked to be taken to see David Minkoff, a physician at the New Port Richey Hospital who is a Scientologist. But Wood said McPherson could not have carried on a conversation with anyone that day.

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