Photos of McPherson autopsy stir new conflict
News organizations seek them, but for their own reasons, the Church of
Scientology and the McPherson estate want the photos kept out of public
St. Petersburg Times
June 16, 2000 
ST. PETERSBURG -- Now that the criminal case against the Church of
Scientology is over, a judge must decide whether the public should have
access to a key piece of evidence: the autopsy photos of Scientologist
Lisa McPherson. 
The church and McPherson's estate, normally at odds, joined forces
Thursday to ask Pinellas-Pasco Chief Circuit Judge Susan F. Schaeffer to
keep the photos under seal.
The church argued the photos could jeopardize its right to a fair trial in
Tampa, where the estate has filed a wrongful death lawsuit contending
Scientology is responsible for McPherson's 1995 death.
The two sides have been tangled in litigation for more than three years. 
Ken Dandar, the estate's attorney, told Schaeffer the privacy rights of
McPherson's family could be compromised if the public were to see the
photos. He added he did not want to give the church any grounds for
Schaeffer denied both requests, saying she had no jurisdiction in the
matter.  The judge had presided over the 18-month criminal case in which
Scientology's Clearwater operation was charged with abuse of a disabled
adult and practicing medicine without a license in McPherson's death. 
State Attorney Bernie McCabe dropped the case Monday, citing problems with
the testimony of Medical Examiner Joan Wood.
Schaeffer on Thursday agreed with lawyers for news organizations that the
criminal case is defunct and the matter of the autopsy photos was
improperly before her.
But she kept the photos under seal until the church and the estate could
file lawsuits in Pinellas.
The church filed its lawsuit immediately after Thursday's hearing; Dandar
is expected to do the same today. A Pinellas judge, perhaps Schaeffer
herself, probably will decide the matter next week. 
The photos became an issue after local news organizations requested copies
of all records in the case when they became public Monday. McCabe's office
and Clearwater police released thousands of pages of investigative
documents, but withheld autopsy photos when the church and the estate
requested a hearing.
Lawyers for the St. Petersburg Times, the Tampa Tribune and WFLA-Ch. 8
argued that potential damage to a person or an institution such as
Scientology did not override the public's right to see public records.
Schaeffer looked at the autopsy photographs from the bench and described
them in open court. Echoing Scientology's attorneys, she said some of the
natural changes that occur in a body after death could be misconstrued by
the public. She said local newspapers probably would not publish them, but
worried that they might be displayed on the Internet.
"That does give you some concerns," she said.