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Schiavo's marks still a mystery

A toxicology test comes back negative, but officials still aren't sure what caused five puncture marks on her arms.

STEPHEN NOHLGREN
Published March 31, 2004

CLEARWATER - Terri Schiavo returned to her assisted living home Tuesday after a hurried round of hospital tests were conducted to determine the cause of five puncture marks found on her arms.

A toxicology test came back negative, meaning there's no evidence that Schiavo, 40, was secretly injected with a foreign substance.

Clearwater police "have found no evidence of a crime and no evidence of an attempted crime," said spokesman Wayne Shelor.

And Schiavo's personal doctor, summoned to her bed in the assisted living facility Monday night, said Tuesday that he's not "100 percent sure" the marks were even made by a needle.

But the marks remain unexplained, the latest twist in the long, strange right-to-die case of Terri Schiavo.

"It could be that the skin was broken, maybe by someone's fingernail or jewelry," said Schiavo's physician, Dr. Stanton Tripodis. "There was just an unusual appearance to these marks."

George Felos, an attorney for Schiavo's husband, Michael Schiavo, suggested in a news release that her parents might have stuck her repeatedly with a needle during a visit to her room earlier that day.

After Felos issued his news release, ABC, CBS, Fox News, CNN, the Canadian Broadcasting Network and numerous newspapers peppered Clearwater police for details.

"In 15 years, I have dealt with everything from (dead Scientologist) Lisa McPherson to the Virgin Mary (window image)," Shelor said, "and I have never consulted with this many media on a national level in one day."

George Tragos, who represents Schiavo's parents, denied that they stuck their daughter with a needle.

"They have no idea what (Felos) is talking about," Tragos said. "This is an outrageous abuse of the process. To issue a press release about something there was no evidence about was basically an outrageous method to get some kind of judicial advantage."

Schiavo collapsed 14 years ago and exists in what the courts have called a "persistent vegetative state." Michael Schiavo, her guardian, wants to remove the feeding tube that keeps her alive. Judges agree with him.

Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have fought to keep her alive. They have found an ally in Gov. Jeb Bush, who wants to reopen the court case and review the evidence.

Tuesday morning, Bush asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to monitor Felos' needle allegations. FDLE spokesman Rick Morera said Clearwater police have not asked for help and will continue to be the lead investigative agency.

The Schindlers visited their daughter for about 45 minutes Monday afternoon at the Park Place assisted living home in Clearwater, where she lives while her permanent home at Hospice of the Florida Suncoast undergoes renovations. The Schindlers typically see her about twice a week.

After they left, an aide noticed that Schiavo was disheveled, Felos said. Her feeding tube was wrapped around her back. An armband was higher than usual on her arm.

"The aide knew something was wrong immediately and called the head nurse to come in," Felos said. "Somebody noticed a couple of marks on her arms." A purple needle cap was found on her gown.

Tripodis, Schiavo's doctor, was called to examine her. Tripodis said the marks were fresh puncture wounds "consistent with little needle marks."

Schiavo receives medication through her feeding tube and had not had any blood drawn recently, he said. So the marks were unexplained, and she was sent to Morton Plant-Mease Hospital.

"I really can't say what is the most likely explanation. I'm not a forensic scientist," Tripodis said.

Felos said he got his information from his client, Michael Schiavo, who could not be reached for comment.

Tragos, the Schindlers' attorney, noted that an off-duty Clearwater police officer is stationed outside Schiavo's room, a security measure paid for by the hospice. When people visit, the door to her room remains open. On Monday, a nurse stopped by at least once during the Schindlers' visit - hardly an atmosphere for skulduggery, he said.

"To suggest that these people who have given their lives to save (their daughter's) life would do anything to harm her is an absurd idea," Tragos said.

Toxicology tests at Morton Plant ruled out the prospect that someone injected something harmful into Schiavo. Felos said he didn't know whether any tests were done to determine whether blood had been drawn from her, which could qualify as a crime of battery.

Clearwater police intend to interview the Schindlers, Michael Schiavo, medical staff "and anyone who had any contact with Mrs. Schiavo," Shelor said. "We have no evidence of any crime but will continue an inquiry."

During the investigation, Michael Schiavo is not allowing his wife to have visitors - including her parents.

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