Inside Edition March 21, 1997

I'm Madeline McFadden, in for Deborah Norville

MMc: Back in January, we told you about the mysterious death of a young woman named Lisa Mcpherson. Lisa spent the last 17 days of her life at the headquarters of Scientology in Clearwater, Florida. In that broadcast, our Matt Meaghar reported on some serious questions raised about her death, questions he has continued to investigate. He now has some critical new information about Lisa's death..

Matt: A handful of people have gathered for a candlelight procession in honor of Lisa Mcpherson. She died 15 months ago. For almost a year, the cause of her death was a mystery to her family. But in December, authorities said she died from a blood clot caused by bed rest and severe dehydration. It occurred while Lisa was in the care of fellow scientologists, at the Church's spiritual headquarters in Clearwater, Florida.

1 man w/ candle, surrounded by Scientologists. Fem clam is between him and the camera, male calm is over his shoulder)
Picketer: I'm lighting a candle for Lisa's death
Female Clam: for Scientology! Yes! YES!
Picketer: For Lisa's death
Male Clam: Do you know this girl?

Lisa Mcpherson had been a devout member of the church of Scientology, forsaking friends and family back in Dallas, she lived and worked in Clearwater. She even donated more than 50 thousand dollars to the church in 1994.
The people carrying candles didn't know Lisa, they're critics of Scientology. They claim the cause of her death is being covered up by the church.

Female Clam: Did you know Lisa?
Woman: I know, I know Lisa now

Hundreds of angry Scientologists didn't appreciate this vigil.

Male Clam: We know you didn't care about this girl. Who do you think you are kidding about that? Tell the truth. You got something against the church. Say it.

Didn't appreciate it to the point that they were blowing out the candles and harassing the demonstrators:

Female Clam: There must be a lot of people out there who don't like Scientology, 'cuz 10 of them showed up.

Female Clam You are making a scam of Lisa's death right now with what you're doing.

Lisa's death has become a symbol. Scientologists say they're being persecuted by police and the media. But critics, and a lawyer who filed suit on behalf of her family, say the church is responsible for Lisa's death.

Dandar: The church of Scientology killed Lisa Mcpherson. We allege that is was willful, wanton, malicious, and the result of culpable negligence.

Lisa's plight began in the fall of 1995. Before Thanksgiving of that year, she told a friends and family members in dallas that she was coming to stay.

Lisa's friend, Kelley Davis:
KD: She said she was coming to stay, she said she had to talk to me about a lot of things, and that she didn't want to discuss it over the phone.

But on November 18, Lisa had some type of mental breakdown after a minor car accident. She took off all her clothes and told paramedics that "she needed help, that she needed to talk to someone."

Dandar: We don't know what happened before the car accident. We don't know that yet. But we will find out.

Matt: The paramedics took Lisa to a hospital emergency room, where within minutes, scientologists from the church's Fort Harrison hotel arrived and tried unsuccessfully to convince doctors not to give her a psychiatric exam. Hospital records indicate that Lisa had a fixed stare, was teary eyed, and was talking in a monotone

Dandar: The doctors want to keep her for observation, but the church of Scientology members show up and convince her to leave and go back to the headquarters in Clearwater.

Matt: Why did Lisa go there rather than home to her apartment?

Abelson: She wanted to be around people from the church. She wanted peace and quiet. and knew she'd get that at the Ft. Harrison.

Matt: Elliott Abelson is the General Council for the Church of Scientology. We did this interview with him in December for our first report.

Abelson: She rested, she slept a lot, uhh.... nothing unusual, really, until the end of her stay. She did (pause) get food, water, obviously people talked to her. But she got rest and relaxation.

Matt: But 17 days later, Lisa was taken from the Fort Harrison to another hospital. She had lost a tremendous amount a weight, had bruises on her face, legs, hands, and arms, and according to the Medical examiner, had been bitten by cockroaches. This time, she was dead on arrival

Joan Wood: Her death is not a natural death.

Matt: Is her death being investigated by your office as a suspicious death?

Joan: Yes

Matt: We interviewed Dr. Joan Wood, the Medical Examiner for Pinnelas and Pasco countries, in January. She has since been told by prosecutors not to discuss the case.

Wood: This is the most severe case of dehydration I have ever seen.
Matt: Dr. Wood said tests performed during the autopsy indicate Lisa Mcpherson went at least 5 days without liquid. 5 days you think she went without liquid?
Joan: I think 5-10 is reasonable, it may have been 17.
Matt: Wood speculated at the time that Lisa had either refused to eat and drink, or had been denied food and water
Abelson: They have absolutely no basis to say that she didn't die of natural causes.

Matt: How do you know that?

Abelson: Because I've read the autopsy report!

Matt: Abelson told us the Medical Examiner and police are conspiring against the Church, and ignoring a staph infection in Lisa's body that he says could have contributed to her death.

Abelson: It may not have been the cause of death, but it certainly would have exasperated what, what was happening to her.

Wood: She did not die of an overwhelming Staph infection

Matt: A test for the Staph infection was ordered after Lisa died by this man, Dr. David Mikoff. He works in the Emergency Room at the Columbia Newport Richly hospital, and is a member of the Church of Scientology. On the last day of her life, the Church says Lisa indicated she would only be comfortable seeing a doctor who was a Scientologist and a nice man. So even though there was an emergency room 2 minutes away from the Ft. Harrison, she was driven 25 miles on a busy highway, passing at least 4 emergency rooms, to get to Dr. Mikoff.
And had they called him do you know?
Abelson: Yes
Matt: And had they described symptoms to him?
Abelson: [thinking hard] In a very general way.
Matt: And this doctor recommended that she come to that hospital?
Abelson: Yes. He said "get her here immediately."
Matt: According to Hospital records, the scientologists who drove Lisa said she stopped breathing just as they approached the hospital. Doesn't common sense dictate to you that they would have called an ambulance?
Abelson: I can't apply my common sense to the situation because I wasn't there
Matt: There were adults, were't they?
Abelson: Certainly they were adults
Matt: Educated people?
Abelson: And certainly the fastest way to get her to the doctor was
Matt: Call an ambulance
Abelson: to put her in a van and drive her.
Matt: You have a woman who's dehydrated, she's got severe diarrhea, she's had excessive weight loss, and she's going in and out of consciousness.
Abelson: [smiling] She's sleepy. You know, you're making more about this going in and out of consciousness. She's tired.

Matt: The Family's lawsuit accuses the church of isolating Lisa against her will, and subjecting to her a church procedure called an introspection rundown. The lawsuit alleges she was confined during the procedure, and she went into a coma and severely dehydrated, even though it was obvious she needed urgent medical attention.
There was no construction to isolate Lisa, was there?
Abelson: No, absolutely not, that was Lisa's wish.

Matt: For our first report we were told that Lisa had requested to be alone - she just wanted to get some rest. We were also told there were no medical professionals in the hotel, and she was only being checked on by good friends and hotel employees. Well, that does not appear to be the case.
Hospital and police reports from the night Lisa died indicate she was accompanied to the Emergency room by a fellow Scientologist named Janice Johnson. Inside Edition has learned that Johnson is actually a Medical Doctor, who was licensed in Arizona under her married name, Fitzgerald.
But listen to what Church attorney Abelson told us in January. He said there was no one at the hotel capable of realizing how serious Lisa's condition was.

Abelson: If this wasn't a hotel, and these weren't people, and there was some trained people to look for things like, like what happened, she would have gone to the hospital, earlier, probably.

Matt: He went on to say

Abelson: But you can't put me or you after the event, in the place of the people who were just hotel employees, really.

Matt: Dr. Johnson was certainly not just a hotel employee, in fact she was medical liaison officer at the time of Lisa's death. We wanted to ask her some questions, but she didn't want to talk to us.

(Johnson is in a van, in Sea Org Blue, as she is asked questions she smiles, waves, and backs out of the parking place)

Were you with Lisa Mcpherson when she died? Can I ask you some questions about Lisa's death, please?

Maybe she didn't want to talk to us because she's not licensed to practice in Florida. Inside Edition had learned she's not even licensed to practice in her home state of Arizona. In 1994 the Arizona State medical board investigated Johnson for allegations of drug abuse. Without admitting wrongdoing, Johnson signed an agreement giving up her right to practice or prescribe medicine in that state.

Could I just talk to you for a second please?

(Johnson drives off, freeze on pic of her face)

Church attorney Elliott Abelson told us any questions about Dr. Johnson should be referred to him. But when we showed up this week in Los Angeles for an interview he scheduled, Abelson said he would only read a prepared statement.

Abelson: The church, probably more than any other entity, wants the truth to be known, concerning Lisa's last 17 days. (snip?) Really a celebration of her other part of her life, the 18 years that she spent so happily in the Church.

Matt: When I tried to ask him some question, he got up and left.

Abelson: Matt, its been fine. Thank you very much.
Matt: You invited me out here to do an interview, and all you'll do in read a statement. I want to ask you a simple question about something.
Abelson: Matt, I'm really, it was nice to see you again.
Matt: Was Lisa being attended to by medical professionals? You told me the last time we talked that is was hotel employees that were taking care of her.
Abelson: We had an agreement. You broke it.
Matt: Yes, you told me to come out here and we would do an interview.

Off camera, he and other officials said Dr. Johnson was not practicing medicine, she was just referring people to other doctors. When I asked in Dr. Johnson had been tending to Lisa Mcpherson, they said that's a question better addressed to the authorities. Back in Clearwater, they are still looking for answers.

(vigil again)

Male Clam: She wouldn't want you to be doing this.

Gabe Cazares: Well, she wouldn't want to be dead, either

MM, back in the studio: The Church has responded to the family's lawsuit denying all allegation of wrongdoing. And the church issued a statement today, which in part says, quote "The charge that the church or anyone else was responsible for Lisa Mcpherson's death is false and outrageous. It is contrary to the Medical Examiners report of death due to a pulmonary embolism. It is contrary to fact. It is contrary to the opinion of five experts, including the medical examiners of 3 major cities.
This is precisely the type of exploitation of a young woman's death that the church will not tolerate, and it makes the church more determined that ever to bring the truth out in the open so Lisa Mcpherson can finally rest in peace." End quote

We will continue to update you on this story.

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