Butterworth Offers Help in Scientologist Case

Source: St. Petersburg Times
Date: October 20, 1998

Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth has offered "the complete services of my office" to help investigate the 1995 death of Scientologist Lisa McPherson.

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe has been reviewing evidence and conducting his own investigation since December, when the Clearwater Police Department and Florida Department of Law Enforcement recommended criminal charges.

McCabe said Monday he was considering Butterworth's offer and hopes to make a decision on the case soon. "I'm receptive to exploring ways his office might assist us," he said.

McPherson, 36, had been under the care of fellow Scientologists who tried for 17 days to nurse her through a psychotic outburst at the Fort Harrison Hotel, Scientology's retreat in downtown Clearwater. Although physically healthy when she entered the hotel, she was dead on arrival after Scientologists drove her to a Pasco County hospital.

Butterworth, a Democrat who is running for re-election, disclosed his unusual offer in a candidate interview Monday with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board.

"I have offered (McCabe) the complete services of my office to help with the Lisa McPherson investigation and any other case I can assist in," he said when asked about the case. "This would include any investigative help I can give him and the powers of the Statewide Prosecutor's Office. Anything he needs."

The offer "may have something to do with the audience he was speaking to," said Laura Vaughan, a Tampa attorney representing the church. Vaughan was referring to the Times, which has published editorials that, she said, "inappropriately encouraged a criminal prosecution" in the McPherson case.

"You have to keep in mind that Mr. Butterworth is seeking to gain the endorsement of the St. Pete Times for re-election," Scientology spokesman Brian Anderson said. "These comments politicize the issue further. So far, the state attorney's office is keeping the investigation focused on the law and the facts, and we hope it stays that way."

Tampa lawyer Ken Dandar, who represents McPherson's family, also questioned the timing of Butterworth's offer. He said he has twice asked the governor's office for help because of the complexity of the case and the "extreme delay" from McCabe's office. Both times an aide wrote back saying McCabe's office could handle it.

"Where was Mr. Butterworth in the last three years?" Dandar asked. "I think that's a political statement. But if there is a change of heart, the family welcomes it."

McCabe said he wants to complete the case "as soon as possible." He said some of the charges under consideration are subject to a statute of limitations that expires Dec. 5, the three-year anniversary of McPherson's death. Other possible charges are not subject to the statute, he said.

Asked whether his office had decided to make a charge of some kind, he said: "You try not to make a decision until you finish your investigation."