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Scientologists decry toll of criminal case

More than 200 church members ask a Circuit Court judge to dismiss the Lisa McPherson criminal case, saying it is an undue burden on them.

By THOMAS C. TOBIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 9, 2000


CLEARWATER -- A group of more than 200 Scientologists says the criminal prosecution against the Church of Scientology has hurt them personally, and they are asking a judge to dismiss the case.

In affidavits filed Wednesday in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, many church members said the criminal case stemming from the 1995 death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson has prompted their non-Scientologist relatives, friends and co-workers to question their involvement in the church, shun them, ridicule them or express concern about their safety.

They aired their complaints to buttress Scientology's argument that prosecutors have improperly burdened the church with two felony charges in McPherson's death, and thus have "chilled the religious rights of every Scientologist" in the world.

The filing is part of a flurry of arguments this week by Scientology as church attorneys and prosecutors prepare for a major hearing scheduled for Monday on whether the case should be dismissed.

The church's Clearwater entity, known as the Flag Service Organization or "Flag," is charged with abuse of a disabled adult and practicing medicine without a license. McPherson, 36, died of a blood clot in her left lung after 17 days in the care of staffers at Scientology's Fort Harrison Hotel. They were trying to nurse her through what they believed was a severe mental breakdown.

The affidavits include the statements of Scientologists from Clearwater and many other parts of the country. Mary DeMoss, former owner of a children's acting school in Clearwater, said several non-Scientologist parents pulled their children out of the school after the Lisa McPherson investigation began, saying they feared she would kidnap or brainwash them.

DeMoss said the problem caused the school to close. The resulting financial troubles, she said, led her and her husband to separate, and they are still working off the debt.

Several Scientologist parents said their children had been ostracized in local schools, and one man complained the case had resulted in a rift between him and his 85-year-old mother, a Methodist.

Another Scientologist, Kimberly Marchand, said her best friend of 14 years refused to attend her wedding at the Fort Harrison Hotel because she feared for her safety.

In a brief filed with the affidavits, lawyers Kendrick Moxon and Helena Kobrin, both longtime Scientologists, had strong words for the prosecution led by Chief Assistant State Attorney Doug Crow. They alleged the state attorney's legal arguments in December were rife with "extreme religious bias" and a "narrow-minded concept of a church."

One of Moxon and Kobrin's central points was that the Scientology staffers who kept McPherson at the Fort Harrison were engaged in an "entirely religious" practice called the "Introspection Rundown," which was devised by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard to calm a person in the throes of psychosis before administering Scientology counseling called "auditing."

Moxon and Kobrin said prosecutors are attacking that practice, in effect forcing Scientologists to get psychiatric or psychological care, which is against their religion.

It would be like "forcing an Orthodox Jew to eat pork or forcing a devoted Catholic to have an abortion," the lawyers said.

Crow declined to comment Wednesday, saying he would make his arguments in court next week. But he cited a section in the prosecution's December argument, which said in part that many actions of the Scientology staff had nothing to do with the church's teachings.

Scientology's tenets do not, for example, call for injections or forced medication, which were administered to McPherson by church staffers not medically licensed, the brief said.

It said the course of treatment "was quite simply not an appropriate decision for untrained personnel to make in a hotel setting."

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