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Schiavo: Same judges, same result

Judges who have already denied requests to reinstate Terri Schiavo's feeding tube issue the same rulings.

By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, TOM ZUCCO, CARRIE JOHNSON and GRAHAM BRINK
Published March 26, 2005


PINELLAS PARK - The day began like so many this week.

A trip to state court, another plea to the federal courts. Gov. Jeb Bush's lawyers scouring law books to find a way to keep Terri Schiavo alive.

A mass of protesters outside the hospice reciting Bible verses, one man clutching a 5-foot tall plastic foam spoon with the plea "Jeb Please Feed Terri." A few peaceful arrests.

Schiavo, entering her second week without nutrition or hydration, slipped closer to death, her skin flaky, her lips sunken. She's either "down to her last hours" or "stable" depending on who does the talking.

As federal and state lawmakers faded into the background, supporters of keeping Schiavo alive sensed that their struggles could be coming to an end.

Several more legal doors closed Friday for Schiavo's parents, who have fought their son-in-law Michael Schiavo for seven years to keep their 41-year-old daughter's feeding tube from being removed.

The same three-judge panel from 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta again denied an emergency order to reinsert the feeding tube. The court agreed with U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore, who rejected the same request earlier in the day. And a state court judge denied a motion by the Florida Department of Children and Families to take Schiavo into protective custody.

Late in the day, came a glimmer of hope, or perhaps a desperate salvo.

The parents' lawyers pleaded with Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer, saying Schiavo had indicated that she wanted to be kept alive. The new motion said Barbara Weller, an attorney working for the Schindlers, met with Schiavo on March 18 and told her that the controversy could end if she "could articulate one sentence: "I want to live."

Schiavo said "AHHHHH" and then nearly screamed "WAAAAAAA!" the motion said.

"She became very agitated but could not complete the vocalization attempt," the motion said.

David Gibbs III, the Schindlers lead attorney, asked that Schiavo be rehydrated so the court could determine what Schiavo was trying to communicate.

"We quite honestly expect Terri to step into eternity on this Easter weekend," Gibbs said.

George Felos, an attorney representing Michael Schiavo, said Terri Schiavo could not communicate with anyone.

"This is simply an outrageous abuse of the legal system and legal process," Felos said.

Greer said he would rule before noon today.

Outside Hospice House Woodside, the number of supporters of keeping Schiavo alive swelled through the day. Tents popped up on the grass near the sidewalk, temporary homes for the faithful.

Police arrested at least 10 people, including a 10-year-old boy and 13-year-old twin sisters. They offered symbolic cups of water to Schiavo before submitting to handcuffs. A fire truck responded to the hospice after burned popcorn set off an alarm.

The FBI arrested Richard Alan Meywes in Fairview, N.C., on charges that he allegedly promised a $250,000 bounty for Michael Schiavo's death and $50,000 for the elimination of Judge Greer.

In Tallahassee, a group of about 25 protesters stood outside the Governor's Mansion despite a persistent rainstorm. They urged Gov. Bush to take custody of Schiavo - with force, if necessary.

Doctors have said that patients like Schiavo could live two weeks without nutrition or hydration. Courts have ruled that Schiavo is in a persistent vegetative state, something her parents and siblings dispute.

To the Schindlers, Bush remains the last politician with any hope of affecting the case. On Friday, Bob Schindler blasted the governor.

"With the stroke of his pen he could stop this," Schindler said outside the hospice with this wife, Mary. "He's put Terri through a week of hell and my family though a week of hell. I implore him to put a stop to this. ... This is judicial homicide and he has to stop it."

The state legislature was off for Easter break, after an unsuccessful bid in the Senate to pass a law that would have required the insertion of Schiavo's feeding tube. A U.S. Senate committee postponed a hearing scheduled for Monday prompted by the Schiavo case. Gov. Bush has said he won't violate court orders by seizing Schiavo. Spokesman Alia Faraj said the governor was in a "thoughtful mood." He stayed behind closed doors in his office for most of the day.

"He's very sad," Faraj said. "It's been a very, very difficult journey and his prayers are with Terri Schiavo and the Schindlers."

Protesters flooded DCF's child abuse hotline with concerns about Schiavo and making it hard for others with complaints to get through, Faraj said Friday.

"The DCF needs to be able to get to calls related to new emergencies regarding the well-being of children and families," Faraj said.

The legal defeats kept coming Friday for Schiavo's parents.

They had asked Whittemore to keep their daughter alive while they prepared a case in federal court. But Whittemore said the parents couldn't show that they had a likelihood of success at an eventual trial, the requirement for such an emergency order.

The Schindlers quickly filed an appeal with the 11th Circuit. The brief asked the court to order Schiavo to be taken by ambulance to a hospital so her tube could be inserted. It opened by saying, "This is a mercy killing case."

In state court, DCF filed a motion with Judge Greer to take Terri Schiavo into its protective custody, a move that had been anticipated for days. The motion alleged that Schiavo has been suffering abuse or neglect that presents a serious risk of death and that it wants Schiavo examined and treated to alleviate the emergency.

But Greer, who had issued an injunction barring DCF from touching Schiavo, denied the motion saying it was "yet another attempt to circumvent this court's orders" that Schiavo would not want to live by artificial means.

If the courts don't step in to extend Schiavo's life, visitation during her final hours could become the next controversy.

Michael Schiavo and his in-laws haven't spoken in years. Schiavo and the Schindlers do not visit Terri Schiavo at the same time. At times, the Schindlers visits to their daughter have been delayed while their son-in-law spent time with their daughter.

Hamden Baskin III, one of Michael Schiavo's attorneys, said the two sides had not discussed those type of arrangements, though Baskin said Schiavo has control over how much time he spends with his wife, and when he visits.

"He will be in a position to be with her in the end as he should as her husband," Baskin said. "He's been very gracious to extend the family a great deal of time with Terri. As the time draws near, it does become a more difficult logistic situation. Michael has the right to choose the amount of time he will stay with her."

The fighting over Terri Schiavo probably won't end with her death.

Michael Schiavo, through his attorneys, has said he will have his wife's remains cremated. He plans to have the ashes buried in a family plot in the Philadelphia area, where they both formerly lived.

The Schindlers oppose both the cremation and burying the ashes outside Florida.

"I'm not going to comment on that," Schiavo said in a March 15 interview with the St. Petersburg Times. "It's Terri's choice. It's my choice."

Times staff writers Anita Kumar and Alex Leary contributed to this report.