7/2/97 -- 1:29 AM

Scientologists reject blame for woman's death
By JEFF STIDHAM of The Tampa Tribune

TAMPA - Lisa McPherson spent the last two weeks of her life in a typical room on the first floor of the Fort Harrison Hotel in Clearwater.

According to the Church of Scientology, she was neither isolated nor locked in. Rather, she was taken care of by members of the church.

But those same people who tended to McPherson saw her beating the walls of her room and admit she was in bad shape in the days before her death on Dec. 5, 1995.

McPherson's family, which filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the church last February, contends she was held in isolation against her will for 17 days because she wanted to leave the church.

The family says the Scientologists ignored the 36-year-old woman's medical needs and allowed her to perish. An autopsy found she died of a blood clot brought on by ``severe dehydration and bed rest.''

The church disputes those findings.

McPherson's death is under investigation by the Pinellas County medical examiner's office, as well as the Clearwater Police Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's office.

In records released Tuesday, the church describes a psychotic woman weakened by illness but capable of harming herself or others.

The church says she occasionally needed help bathing, dressing, eating - even going to the bathroom.

Yet, sometimes members had to hold her to prevent her from injuring herself.

The records were released after a Tuesday morning hearing to determine whether documents received by the McPherson family's lawyer should remain confidential.

Kennan Dandar, who represents the family, argued that records such as McPherson's medical history were not proprietary and could not be called confidential by the church just because it doesn't want them made public.

The church's lawyer, Laura Vaughan, told Circuit Judge James Moody that Dandar had to live by an agreement he signed.

Moody, while ruling that the agreement was legally binding, said some of the documents might not be confidential.

The judge will examine them after another hearing next week, when he will decide whether to grant the church's request to delay the civil case until the criminal proceedings are concluded. He also will decide whether he will issue a gag order prohibiting the lawyers from releasing information or talking to treporters about the case.

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