Contrary to allegations by her estranged husband and his lawyer, Terri Schindler-Schiavo did not suffer “puncture wounds” or other physical abuse, according to a police report released Friday.
“The Clearwater [Fla.] Police Department found no evidence of criminal activity, no indication of attempted criminal activity, and no harm done to Mrs. Schiavo,” said police chief Sid Klein in a statement announcing the case has been closed.
The conclusion was reached after six weeks of “expansive and detailed” investigation, triggered when a nursing assistant noticed some dots resembling needle marks on Terri’s arms the afternoon of March 29, following a visit by Robert and Mary Schindler, the parents of the 40-year-old, brain-disabled woman.
The discovery of the tiny marks launched a new phase in the ongoing euthanasia battle being waged in the Florida courts between the Schindlers and their son-in-law, Michael Schiavo, 40, who wants to starve their daughter to death by court-sanctioned removal of the feeding and hydration tube she depends upon for sustenance.
Schiavo — who lives with another woman with whom he has had two children — insists his wife told him she would not want to be kept alive by “by artificial means.” Her parents and siblings strongly doubt she said that, and a number of experts in the fields of brain injury and speech pathology say she could be immeasurably helped with rehabilitative therapy.
Upon learning of the marks, Schiavo contacted his attorney, George Felos, and his wife’s physician, Dr. Stanton Tripodis, who authorized Terri taken to Mease Hospital in Dunedin (early accounts said Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater). She underwent a battery of medical procedures — including toxicology tests for the presence of unauthorized drugs. All proved negative, and she was returned to Park Place.
Wielding his power as his wife’s legal guardian, Schiavo barred all visitors pending the outcome of a police investigation.
Her family knew nothing of this.
Without notifying them, Felos sent a one-page press release to a number of media outlets that came just short of charging the Schindlers with sticking needles in their daughter.
“Schiavo Puncture Wounds Found After Parents’ Visit,” the headline on the statement screamed. The text painted a vivid picture of what seemed brutal assault upon the helpless woman.
“Mrs. Schiavo was found in a disheveled state with her feeding tube wrapped around her back and an allergy band pulled up very tight on her arm like a tourniquet. On one arm were four fresh puncture wounds with another fresh puncture wound on her other arm. Also found were fresh scratch wounds, over the puncture wounds as if an attempt were made to conceal the puncture wounds.”
As a final proof of violence, Felos revealed that a purple “needle cap” had been found “in Mrs. Schiavo’s gown, confirming the belief that the puncture wounds were caused by a hypodermic needle.” It wasn’t known whether something was injected into Terri or “fluids were withdrawn from her,” he declared ominously.
The Clearwater Police were on the scene investigating and “Mrs. Schiavo’s husband and guardian has issued orders stopping all persons from visiting his wife until the police investigation is completed,” Felos said.
The statement triggered a two-day feeding frenzy by the media.
The Schindlers were contacted as soon as local TV news channels received Felos’ statement. Robert Schindler was stunned. He and Mary had visited Terri that afternoon, but she was sitting in her chair when they left, dressed in street clothes, and looking better cared for than she had in a long time. He most certainly had not put a needle in her arm, he told the caller.
Clearwater PD was flooded with phone calls. Wayne Shelor, the department’s public affairs officer, reported he had never received such a volume of queries from the media. They came in from all over the country, small town weeklies and big city dailies.
Contacted by newspapers and TV channels, Felos made additional allegations to provide extra color.
“Somebody put a needle into Terri Schiavo on numerous occasions,” he told Bay-News 9, a Tampa channel. “It’s our position that that constitutes a criminal assault on her body. We want to know who did this and why it was done.”
He admitted to the St. Petersburg Times that he hadn’t actually seen the marks, but that didn’t prevent him speculating that: “Maybe one of [the Schindlers'] quack doctors told them, ‘Here, we have a substance that can help Terri get better, but it has to be injected.” The SP Times passed the news along.
As it turned out there was no merit whatsoever to these or any other allegations.
Detectives assigned to the case conducted numerous interviews with family members, physicians, nursing staff and others. The Mease Hospital physician found nothing untoward about the marks on Terri’s arm, nor did her personal physician, Dr. Tripodis, although they could explain what caused them.
“Neither physician quantified the marks on her upper arm as evidence of an injection; the origin of these specific marks is undetermined,” the statement explains.
The detectives believe the marks could have resulted from a “Hoyer Lift,” a device used to move a patient from a reclining position on a bed to a sitting position in a chair.
The hospital bracelet, a rigid band of plastic, might have worked itself up Terri’s forearm toward her elbow since her arms are often contracted upward.
The feeding tube and its position were examined by Hospice personnel when concerns were first expressed, and later by investigators. Their conclusions: there was no indication of leakage; detectives found no indication of intentional manipulation; the monitor warning alarm was never activated, nor was Terri’s feeding ever interrupted.
The famous “needle cap” turned out to be similarly innocuous. Detectives identified it as a “catheter syringe tip adapter” — called a Luer — used as a plastic tubing connector in medical feeding and irrigation setups. It has no application for injection. An independent laboratory conducted chemical and gas examinations of swabs taken from the Luer. Results were negative for foreign substances.
The case was closed.
Visitation still denied
That should have been the end of the matter. And the Schindlers, who have not seen their daughter for 48 days, figured it was. But even though Clearwater PD completely exonerated them, Schiavo is not allowing them to visit Terri.
On Friday evening, the Schindlers drove from their Gulf Port home to the Park Place assisted living facility in Clearwater, where their daughter’s been living since mid-December, kept isolated from other residents and patients. They had every reason to believe this would be a joyful reunion.
Upon their arrival the nursing supervisor telephoned Schiavo, asking if they could enter Terri’s room.
He told the supervisor to tell them No.
It could be at least 11 days before they have a chance to see Terri.
As reported by WorldNetDaily, on May 26, Pinellas County Probate Judge George Greer is supposed to consider a petition by the Schindler’s attorney, Patricia Anderson, for the restoring of visitation rights not only to Terri’s parents, but to her brother and sister as well.
Anderson maintains Schiavo’s denial of visitation violates Florida law, which clearly states an incapacitated person “retains the right to receive visitors and communicate with others.”
In her petition, which she filed May 10, Anderson asked for an emergency hearing because of Schiavo’s proposal that the Schindlers could visit Terri if they paid for additional security, but Greer refused to hear it on an expedited basis.
Instead, it was attached to an already scheduled hearing dealing with a request by attorney Deborah Bushnell for additional restrictions on visitation. Considering the judge’s rulings in the past — all of them favorable to Schiavo — Terri’s supporters are not hopeful that the parents’ exoneration by Clearwater police detectives will have any effect on his decision.
Bushnell, who represents Schiavo in guardianship matters, is out of town until Tuesday, May 25, the day before the hearing, and could not be reached for comment.
The Schindlers are not speaking with the press until a scheduled conference on Monday.
Terri responding to her mother from video clip on Terrisfight.org
Because the Schindlers faced the possibility of criminal charges, George Tragos, a prominent criminal attorney, stepped into the fray as soon as he learned of Felos’ allegations and offered his services to the family at no cost. He directed them and their spokesperson, Pamela Hennessey, not to discuss the case with the media, and fields press inquiries himself.
Contacted for comment, Tragos told WorldNetDaily he was not surprised at the findings in the report since he knew from the beginning that the Schindlers were not responsible for the marks on Terri’s arm, though he didn’t known what caused them.
“The idea that her parents would stick needles in her is absurd,” he said.
Tragos had sharp words not only for Felos but the media for their unquestioning acceptance of Felos’ allegations, characterizing both as irresponsible.
“It goes to show how irresponsible that press release [Felos] sent out was,” he said. “It was highly irresponsible, and now it’s proved to be false. But the press was irresponsible for publishing the allegations without finding out if they were true. I’d characterize it as irresponsible conduct on the part of the press and Felos.”
Tragos said he did not know whether the incident was deliberately staged to provide an excuse to isolate Terri from her family, as has been suggested. But to issue a press release like that before an investigation is started or concluded is “outrageous.”
“It was a deliberate attempt to smear someone’s name, it succeeded in smearing the name, and now it’s been proved to be totally false,” he said. “There’s no evidence to justify any of the inferences that press release drew.”
George Felos did not return WorldNetDaily’s phone call seeking comment.
As WorldNetDaily reported, Terri suffered massive brain injury when she collapsed under unexplained circumstances in the couple’s apartment in February 1990, at the age of 26. Oxygen to her brain was cut off for several minutes, leaving her severely brain-disabled, incapacitated, and dependent upon a feeding tube for sustenance.
Four years ago Schiavo convinced Judge Greer to allow him to remove her feeding tube so she would starve to death, as is allowed in Florida.
Through a series of legal maneuvers the Schindlers have managed to keep the case and their daughter alive. Their options appeared to have run out last year when the 2nd District Court of Appeal made a final ruling in Schiavo’s favor and the Florida Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
In October, Terri endured six days without nourishment or hydration before Florida lawmakers passed “Terri’s Law” allowing Gov. Jeb Bush to step in and order her feeding tube reinserted, an action immediately challenged by Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, as unconstitutional.
Last week Pinellas County Circuit Court Judge W. Douglas Baird, handed a victory to Schiavo by summarily ruling the law unconstitutional. The decision could clear the way for removal of Terri’s feeding tube and her death.
Information, including court documents, are posted on the Schindler family website.