By THOMAS C. TOBIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2000
In a 2 1/2-hour interview Wednesday, officials for the Church of Scientology said the accounts of five Scientologists released recently by prosecutors do not accurately portray what happened to Lisa McPherson.
Of the 40 Scientologists interviewed by investigators over the past four years, prosecutors released "the worst of the worst," choosing only those statements that supported their view of the case, church officials said.
There are many other statements and facts that Scientology wants to make public but can't, the officials said, because the criminal case against the church's Clearwater operation is pending.
Church lawyers recently prepared a legal brief responding to the prosecution's records, but it will not be filed because of this week's developments.
Medical examiner Joan Wood has ruled McPherson's death was an "accident," which has caused prosecutors to re-evaluate their case against the church. Scientology officials said Wednesday they don't want to say anything that would adversely affect that process.
For that reason, they spoke mostly in general terms.
Marty Rathbun, a top Scientology official, addressed the lies told to Clearwater police by church staffers Janis Johnson and Alain Kartuzinski.
"I'm not here to defend them," he said, adding: "Internal measures were taken for people who did things that were wrong."
He suggested the reason the staffers lied was the tense atmosphere in Clearwater during the mid-1990s between between Scientology and city government, particularly the Police Department. The church has worked to fix the rift, Rathbun said. But in that environment, he said, he wouldn't expect a Scientology staffer to be open with police. "That was just a huge factor in all of this," he said.
Rathbun and Mike Rinder, another church official, re-emphasized that Scientology staffers were trying hard to help McPherson. Said Rinder: "We also know for sure that none of those people thought she was going to die."
Rinder said many of the allegations initially made about McPherson's care -- that she was chained down and denied food and water -- have been stripped away by the evidence.
He and Rathbun also addressed the shock expressed by Dr. David Minkoff, who pronounced McPherson dead. They argued his reaction is consistent with the suddenness of McPherson's death from a blood clot in her lung.
They also played a scene from the movie The Exorcist in which Linda Blair's character becomes psychotic. Their point: Scientologists who cared for McPherson faced trying circumstances.
"It's a pretty intense situation that can affect a person's perception," Rathbun said.
After McPherson's death, Rathbun said, "There were so many accusations and counter-accusations that it was muddled, which is why we turned to the scientific evidence, which was objective."