A St. Petersburg Times Editorial
Bungling Scientology case
Medical Examiner Joan Wood's mishandling of the autopsy report in the
death of Lisa McPherson creates questions of Wood's credibility.
St. Petersburg Times
June 14, 2000 
It was a sad day Monday in Pinellas County when State Attorney Bernie
McCabe dropped all charges against the Church of Scientology in the death
of Lisa McPherson. 
Sad because the incompetence of Medical Examiner Joan Wood was exposed too
late to save an important criminal case.
Sad because McCabe could find no way to bring to justice those who
callously allowed McPherson to suffer and die without seeking prompt
medical attention for the incapacitated woman.
Sad because the bullying Church of Scientology has won again with its
mixture of seemingly unlimited resources and intimidation.
Sadness is not an emotion that will fix what is wrong, however. Pinellas
County residents should demand that those who failed their duty in the
Lisa McPherson case be held accountable.
They can start with Joan Wood. While Wood has served as Pinellas-Pasco
medical examiner since 1982, it is clear that she and her office have
slipped in recent years.
When McPherson, a Scientologist in Clearwater, suffered a mental breakdown
following a minor automobile accident, fellow Scientologists kept her
isolated and sometimes restrained in a hotel room, force-feeding her
medicine without a doctor's visit. Seventeen days later, the 36-year-old
woman was delivered to a hospital -- dead.
The autopsy was crucial to a criminal prosecution, yet Wood assigned it to
a troubled employee whom she distrusted; he quit before the work was
completed. Wood then finished the autopsy report, but pressed by
Scientology's experts she later changed crucial conclusions in the
Her behavior in the case has been erratic, even bizarre. In a memo earlier
this year with the subject line "Urgent!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" Wood pleaded
with a colleague to support her in the McPherson case -- "Life and career
at stake!"  she wrote.
After taking a recent sworn statement from Wood, Assistant State Attorney
Douglas Crow concluded that "her inability to coherently explain her
decision even under benign questioning by me is completely perplexing."
And Crow recommended dropping felony charges -- abuse of a disabled adult
and practicing medicine without a license -- against the Church of
Scientology.  "The actions and testimony of Dr. Wood, a forensic witness
essential to the state's case, have so muddled the equities and underlying
facts in this case. .  . that it has undermined what began as a strong
legal position," he wrote.
The medical examiner's conduct has spoiled this important case, and it
threatens the outcome of others, as well. One defense attorney in an
unrelated murder trial has already quizzed Wood about her handling of the
McPherson autopsy. And other lawyers, including Pinellas-Pasco Public
Defender Bob Dillinger, are questioning her credibility.
Re-appointment of Wood to another three-year term as medical examiner is
awaiting a decision by Gov. Jeb Bush, who should question her fitness for
the job. 
Wood should not let the issue get that far. Her sense of decency and
integrity should tell her the right thing to do is to resign.