Autopsy pixs released in Scientologist's death
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- (AP) -- Photos of the 1995 autopsy of a Scientologist who died while being treated by church members following a traffic accident were released Thursday, ending the criminal case against the Church of Scientology. The church's last-minute attempt to keep the photos sealed was denied by the Second District Court of Appeal, and the photos were given to media outlets. They also were made available for public inspection at the Circuit Court Clerk's Office in Clearwater and at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell released the photos after the St. Petersburg Times filed a lawsuit contending the photos were public record. Bob Minton, head of a Scientology watchdog group in Clearwater, said he had no plans to publish the photos on the Internet, but expected others would. The ruling ends a dispute that began June 12, when State Attorney Bernie McCabe dropped charges alleging the church abused and illegally practiced medicine on 36-year-old Lisa McPherson. McCabe's office released its investigative files but withheld the autopsy photos while the church contested their release. The church argued the photos could jeopardize its right to a fair trial in a wrongful death lawsuit by McPherson's family, still pending in Tampa. McPherson died Dec. 5, 1995, 17 days after being involved in a minor traffic accident. She took off her clothes and began walking down the street. Police took her to a hospital, but she soon left with Scientology officials, who wanted her to avoid psychiatric treatment, which is against church teachings. She was taken to the Fort Harrison Hotel, the church's headquarters. Over the next 2 1/2 weeks, prosecutors say, she was force-fed unprescribed medicine and forcibly restrained by church officials. Officials say she lost up to 57 pounds. Church officials have denied the charges. McPherson eventually was taken to a hospital, but was pronounced dead. Most of the photos show McPherson on a metal gurney at the Medical Examiner's Office, the day after she died of a blood clot in her left lung. The photos show a woman who is thin, but not skeletal. They show a large black bruise on her lower left thigh and a number of abrasions on her hands, arms, legs and feet. They also show large areas of her body that are purple -- areas where a lack of circulation has caused blood to settle. The Church of Scientology, based in Los Angeles, was founded in 1954 by the late science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. His book ``Dianetics'' formed the basis of his philosophy that traumatic memories in past lives could be cleared through church counseling. Scientology officials say the religion's goal is to help individuals understand and improve their lives. Celebrities including John Travolta, Kirstie Alley and Lisa Marie Presley have publicly promoted the religion. While church officials say worldwide membership is around 9 million, estimates by former members have been much lower. Critics say the church is scam designed to bilk members.