tampabay.com

Governor to close Schiavo inquiry

The investigating state attorney tells Bush he found Michael Schiavo did not cause his wife's collapse.

By DAVID KARP and CHRIS TISCH
Published July 8, 2005


LARGO - In what could be a final chapter in the legal saga of Terri Schiavo, Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe says he could find no evidence that Michael Schiavo caused his wife's collapse 15 years ago.

In a June 30 letter to Gov. Jeb Bush, McCabe suggested ending the state's inquiry into the case.

Bush responded Thursday in a two-sentence letter to McCabe: "Based on your conclusions, I will follow your recommendation that the inquiry by the state be closed."

Bush asked McCabe last month to investigate Schiavo's collapse on the morning of Feb. 25, 1990. He cited questions left unanswered by an autopsy and inconsistent statements from Michael Schiavo about the time he found his wife on the floor of their apartment.

McCabe appointed two of his most seasoned prosecutors to review the evidence. They found nothing to indicate Michael Schiavo hurt his wife.

"I hope this will be the final page in a very, very sad chapter for Florida government," said George Felos, Michael Schiavo's attorney.

The report, though, will not end the controversy over Schiavo's collapse and the court order to remove her feeding tube, causing her death in March.

David Gibbs III, an attorney for Schiavo's parents, questioned how prosecutors were able to take a new look at the case after only 10 days of work.

"It seems surprisingly quick to us," Gibbs said.

Prosecutors did not speak to Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, during that time. Gibbs said he didn't think that was what Bush expected when he asked for a "fresh look" into the case.

"We were probably expecting a more elaborate investigation into some of these questions," Gibbs said.

Although the autopsy could not determine what caused Schiavo's collapse, McCabe said the "most likely hypothesis" was an eating disorder.

As for Michael Schiavo's varying recollection about when he found his wife on the floor, prosecutors found no proof he delayed his call to 911. Though his recollection of the time he found his wife that morning has varied by up to 70 minutes, the Schindlers' memory of that morning also has been unclear.

Several local lawyers predicted McCabe's inquiry would find no evidence that Michael Schiavo hurt his wife.

But McCabe said the governor's request for an inquiry was appropriate.

"I certainly think, in the view of the autopsy and everything, it was not inappropriate to ask those questions," McCabe said. "I can see where that would be viewed as a legitimate inquiry."

McCabe was careful not to call it an investigation, instead labeling it a review or an inquiry.

"When the governor of the state asks you to do something, I suppose it's polite to respond," Felos said. "If there is no statutory requirement for him to do it, then I believe that the state attorney was doing this in the spirit comity and politeness."

McCabe assigned attorneys Doug Crow and Bob Lewis to the inquiry. The two attorneys have more than 50 years combined experience as prosecutors.

"It didn't cost taxpayers anything," McCabe said. "I didn't hire any new people. They were paid their same salary. And I don't think it affected anything we do."

McCabe, for his part, took an apparent jab at people and politicians who weighed in on the Schiavo case. In his letter to Bush, he wrote that that "some pundits ... and even some government institutions" reached conclusions about the case based on misinformation.

McCabe said Crow and Lewis made the inquiry a priority. They reviewed statements and evidence that have been presented in court for years but found no "new information" in the case.

"While some questions may remain following the autopsy, the likelihood of finding evidence that criminal acts were responsible for her collapse is not one of them," the prosecutors wrote.