Church lawyers want photos suppressed

St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2000
By Thomas C. Tobin

LARGO -- Photographs taken during the 1995 autopsy on Scientologist Lisa McPherson should not be made public, the Church of Scientology argued in a motion filed Thursday.

The photos would "aggravate the hostile publicity which the church has already received" from being charged in McPherson's death, Scientology lawyers argued. The photos, they contend, almost certainly would be published in newspapers, broadcast on television news shows and spread across the Internet by anti-Scientology groups. The publicity would make it "virtually impossible for the church to receive a fair trial anywhere, much less in Pinellas County," the motion states. The church's headquarters in Clearwater is charged in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court with abuse of a disabled adult and illegally practicing medicine on McPherson, a longtime Scientologist. She died in the care of Scientology staff members who were trying to nurse her through a severe mental breakdown.

The photos are at issue because the church has made a routine demand to see all the evidence prosecutors will use to try to prove the charges. When the church gets the material, the public may see it as well. For that reason, the church said it wanted everything except the photos. When prosecutors said they felt the photos were public records, the church filed its motion.

The decision will fall to Circuit Judge Brandt C. Downey III. At issue are 29 photos taken by the medical examiner, plus a roll of film taken for Clearwater Police by the Sheriff's Office.

A handful of autopsy photos were made public by a judge in 1997, but they only showed one of McPherson's hands. In that case, the church fought to have the photos released, and they were widely disseminated in the media.

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