After two months of forced separation, the entire Schindler family was reunited with their beloved Terri, the 40-year-old, brain-disabled Florida woman who had been kept in isolation since March 29 by order of her estranged husband, Michael Schiavo.
Probate Court Judge George Greer ruled last Wednesday that Terri Schindler-Schiavo’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, and her siblings, Robert ["Bobby"] Schindler Jr. and Suzanne Carr, could have one 90-minute visit Saturday afternoon and the visit “need not be supervised.”
Greer stated he would issue a final ruling on the matter of visitation no later than today.
Mary Schindler told WorldNetDaily that as soon as she walked into the room Terri’s face lit up and she began laughing in recognition. Then Bobby and Suzanne came in.
“It’s me, your sister,” Suzanne exclaimed, and Terri laughed happily, trying as she always does to talk.
“It was great, all of us being together again,” Mary said. “Terri looked good; she was sitting in her chair. She responded well to all of us.”
Bob Schindler talked at length to his daughter though Mary couldn’t hear all he said.
“He whispers to her and she starts laughing,” she explained, adding that she thinks he talks about the “old times” in Philadelphia, where the family lived before moving to Florida in the mid-1980s.
Terri responding to her mother from video clip on Terrisfight.org
Terri had one other visitor. The Schindlers brought Monsignor Thaddeus Malanowski with them, the revered Roman Catholic priest who for the past four years has accompanied the Schindlers on their Saturday visits to Terri. He held the disabled woman’s attention for much of the visit. Mary said it was obvious how much her daughter had missed his visits during the two-month ban on visitation.
“She kept looking at him and watching him, she didn’t take her eyes off him,” said Mary.
It was also apparent that Malanowski had missed her, and he talked and joked with her.
“He was so funny today,” Mary recalled. “He told her she could be his girl, but only on one condition: She has to get out of her chair and dance the polka with him. I said, ‘That’s not going to happen, Monsignor, but if that’s what it takes I’ll teach her to dance the polka.’”
Malanowski was also able to give Terri Holy Communion, which she’s been denied since Schiavo slammed the door on visitation. She’s not allowed what many Catholics consider the true Sacrament – where the communicant receives the consecrated bread and wine in his or her mouth – but is restricted to “spiritual communion.”
“She had the Sacrament of the Sick, where [Malanowski] blesses her with the [consecrated] Host, but he doesn’t place it in her mouth,” Mary said. “He’s not allowed to. We could all go to jail if he did.”
No visitors allowed
The family’s recent ordeal began March 29, when mysterious “puncture wounds” and scratches were alleged to have been found on Terri’s arms after Robert and Mary visited her in her room at Park Place assisted living facility in Clearwater. Schiavo – who as Terri’s legal guardian exercises absolute control over her – summarily barred all visitors pending the outcome of a police investigation he demanded.
Schiavo’s attorney, George Felos, moved just as quickly.
Before Terri had even been transported by ambulance to the emergency room of a local hospital for tests to determine if she had been injected with anything or if the marks were, in fact, made by a hypodermic needle, Felos sent a press release to several dozen print and electronic media outlets that in essence accused the Schindlers of sticking their daughter with needles and announcing his client’s ban on visitation.
The response of Schiavo and his attorney to the discovery of the marks signaled the launching of a new assault in the ongoing euthanasia battle being fought in the Florida courts between them and Terri’s parents over whether the incapacitated woman should be allowed to live or forced to die.
Schiavo wants to withdraw the feeding tube Terri has depended upon since 1990, when she collapsed under suspicious circumstances and her brain was deprived of oxygen for several minutes, leaving her incapacitated and severely brain-damaged. In February 2000, following a weeklong trial in late January, Judge Greer ruled the disabled woman was in a “persistent vegetative state” – a necessary determination under Florida law for removal of a feeding tube from an otherwise healthy person. He granted Schiavo permission to remove her feeding tube, but through a series of legal maneuvers the Schindlers have managed to keep the case and their daughter alive.
The police investigation took six weeks, during which time Schiavo kept his ban in place, refusing to relax it even for Easter. However, shortly before Mother’s Day he proposed that his in-laws could see their daughter if they hired an off-duty police officer to stay in the room with them during the visit.
The Schindlers flatly refused, and on May 10 their attorney, Patricia Anderson, asked the court for an emergency hearing to restore the family’s visitation rights.
“No mother should have to pay an admission fee to see her child on Mother’s Day,” said Anderson in her petition. “By recommending that the financially-strapped Schindlers may only visit Terri if they pay yet another off-duty police person to accompany them is an effort to inhibit them from freely seeing their own daughter.”
Greer – who has had charge of the case since 1999 – said he didn’t think an emergency existed and declined to hear the petition on an expedited basis. However, he agreed to consider it later and set a hearing for Wednesday, May 26.
On May 14 the Clearwater Police Department released its long-awaited report with results of the investigation. The conclusion: Detectives found no evidence that the Schindlers had stuck their daughter with a hypodermic needle either to inject a drug or withdraw blood, or caused any physical injury to her. There was no evidence of any criminal activity whatsoever.
The Schindlers were completely exonerated, and that should have been the end of the matter. But Schiavo would not lift his ban.
He relaxed it slightly to allow Terri’s parents – though not her siblings or the monsignor – an hour-long visit the Sunday before the scheduled hearing. Schiavo agreed not to require the Schindlers to hire a guard, but insisted on a personally selected “representative” being in the room with them. The visit was under the watchful eye of Gloria Centonze, an unidentified relative of Schiavo’s girlfriend, Jodi Centonze, with whom he’s been living for at least nine years and has had two children.
A ‘laundry list’ of sins
Despite the findings of the Clearwater PD, Schiavo and his attorneys still insist the Schindlers pose a threat to Terri’s safety and that visiting should be conducted under supervision and sharply constrained. A court order prevents Schiavo from prohibiting visits altogether, but he can dictate the terms of visitation and raise its “price” by imposing egregious requirements and restrictions. And it seems he can get away with banning it altogether for weeks, without a court order, if he can offer a valid reason – like a police investigation in progress.
Two days after attorney Anderson filed her petition for an emergency hearing, Deborah Bushnell, the guardianship attorney for Michael Schiavo, countered with an eight-page response (plus attachments), presenting what Anderson calls a “laundry list of all the alleged sins of the Schindler family” and asking for additional restraints on their activities when they’re with Terri.
According to Bushnell, the Schindlers had violated a host of provisions in orders Greer had issued beginning in February 2000.
“As a result of [Terri's] parents and siblings, in knowing violation of this Court’s Orders, [Michael Schiavo] has a reasonable fear for [Terri's] health and safety, and believes that increased visitation restrictions are necessary to protect [her],” Bushnell wrote.
Bushnell claimed the nursing staff had complained to Schiavo about the behavior of the Schindlers, which boiled down to unsubstantiated allegations that they were rowdy, fault-finding and disrespectful of the staff’s ability to give proper care. They had opened the blinds on the bay window of her room and moved her in her chair to the window so a group of “protesters” could see her, “made telephone calls in the hallway of the nursing home saying that the nursing home is killing the ward” [Terri], and “attempted to instruct the nursing home to take specific actions with regard to the ward’s care.”
Another allegation: Schindler had videotaped his daughter in violation of a March 24, 2000, order. Not only had he videotaped her, he was “exploiting Terri for monetary gain.”
In her words: “The Schindlers recently mailed and placed on the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation Website a 10-page latter signed by Robert Schindler soliciting funds to pay the attorney fees of Patricia Fields Anderson, Esq. and for other purposes, and offering to the public a videotape taken of Terri. … The letter implies that the videotape offered for sale is a copy of the videotape taken by Robert Schindler without court permission.”
Bushnell wrote that a copy of the video being offered was obtained, but it turned out not to be one Schindler had made in violation of the early court order. It was, she explained, one made pursuant to Greer’s order of June 27, 2002, in preparation for the medical evidentiary hearing scheduled for October of that year. It’s a selection of short clips selected from four hours of taped examinations by physicians who evaluated Terri’s responses to various stimuli and commands to determine whether she was really in a persistent vegetative state as Schiavo maintains.
The same clips are viewable on the terrisfight.org website, though according to Greer’s order all videotapes of the exams are owned by Terri’s estate and may not be disseminated without court permission.
Lastly, Bushnell raised the specter of the Schindlers sticking hypodermic needles in their daughter. The police report hadn’t been released when she drafted her response to Anderson’s petition, but the media reported as soon as Terri was sent back to Park Place from the emergency room shortly after midnight that toxicology tests had proved negative for drugs and foreign substances. It was apparent within the first 24 hours that the Schindlers were innocent.
Nonetheless, Bushnell wrote: “It could not be confirmed whether a foreign substance was injected into Terri’s vein or into her feeding tube, or whether blood was extracted from Terri’s veins. However, the marks on [Terri's] arms are being investigated. … Investigations by the Clearwater Police Department and the Department of Children and Families are ongoing.”
To prove her laundry list of allegations, Bushnell called several witnesses, including Robert and Bobby Schindler. Tampa attorney Scott Swope – a new player on Schiavo’s legal team – conducted much of the questioning. The courtroom was packed with Terri’s supporters. Michael Schiavo was not present.
The three members of the nursing staff involved with Terri on March 29 described what happened. An unofficial transcript obtained by WorldNetDaily of part of their testimony shows variations from what they told police, but nothing they said incriminates the Schindlers.
Allegations about the Schindlers posing a threat to Terri evaporated as Anderson in cross-examination asked each nurse if she believed any of the family would harm her, and each in turn said no.
Had any family member caused a problem for the nurses? Had they been taken to task for their behavior? Caused a “ruckus”? Been asked to leave? Again, it was no.
“All three nurses denied that,” said Anderson. “All three said they had never seen any ruckus caused by any member of the Schindler family. Nobody had ever asked them to leave.”
Bobby Schindler, said to have been taken to task for talking loudly in the hallway, told WorldNetDaily the allegation on both counts “is false. It’s a lie.” The staff had never complained to him about his making too much noise and he says he had done nothing deserving censor. He stressed the Schindlers know they have to be on “best behavior” at all times when visiting because of likely repercussions if any of them step out of line.
“We’re walking on eggshells when we visit Terri because we’re so scared they’ll make stories up like they’ve done,” he exclaimed. “Look what Felos did with his press release. They can do anything and get away with it.”
Bobby said he testified that Terri hasn’t been outside for years, and he often opens the blinds and window in her room to let in fresh air. “I said yes, I had pushed her chair up against the window, and at the same time said that her being on the fourth floor makes it difficult for people to see her from the ground.”
He said Schiavo’s lawyers didn’t “push the issue”, probably because “they knew it was ridiculous.”
An illicit videotape
The surreptitious videotaping and alleged “exploitation” of Terri was a more serious matter. In her May 12 response, Bushnell had cited the letter on the terrisfight.org website, soliciting money to pay Anderson’s legal fees. It purported to be a personal account of the history of the case and bore Schindler’s signature. Supporters were urged to send $100 donation for which they’d receive a videotape of Terri. The video was also available free. Donations were to be sent to Life Legal Defense Foundation, a nonprofit, pro-life organization in Napa, Calif.
Schindler categorically denied writing or signing the letter and said he knew nothing about it. No, he had not given permission for its distribution, he said. No, he hadn’t received any money.
Mary Riley corroborated Schindler’s denial for WorldNetDaily. He really didn’t know about the letter and hadn’t written it, she said. She explained it was ghostwritten, as is common among nonprofits, and mailed last December. At the time Schindler was very ill from high blood pressure stemming from the severe stress he’d endured throughout the summer and fall. LLDF decided not to trouble the family with details about fund raising. They acted within the terms of an agreement between the Schindlers and LLDF drawn up three years ago that allows the organization a fairly free rein in such matters.
Riley said the videotape they send out is a set of clips of doctors examining Terri’s responses, as Bushnell discovered when she contacted LLDF for a copy. Actually, it was one of her office employees who sent for it, using a sister’s address as a mail drop. Both women testified at the hearing, but said they had not played the tape nor checked its content.
The videos of the examinations were to be Schiavo’s personal property under Greer’s ruling of June 27, 2002. But that section of the order was effectively voided when – at the media’s insistence – they were viewed at the evidentiary hearing in October and became part of the public record and the public domain. This is why clips from them can be posted on the family’s website and used in fund-raising efforts.
However, the Schindlers had made a videotape surreptitiously, not last summer but in August 2001, when it seemed Terri would at some point soon have her feeding tube removed as had already happened that April. The video shows Terri laughing and trying to speak.
“We made it because we wanted a tape of her,” Mary told WorldNetDaily. “We took it and put it away because we thought she was going to pass away soon and I just wanted a tape of her. She was so good that day; she was so responsive.”
Last October Terri’s dad gave a copy of this tape to pro-life activist Randall Terry the day before she had her feeding tube removed, and Terry released it to the media. It was an act of desperation on Schindler’s part – a last ditch effort to show the public his daughter isn’t in a “persistent vegetative state” or brain dead and to draw attention to her plight.
But yes, the tape had been made against a court order.
It was the one action by the Schindlers over a four-year period that Schiavo’s attorneys could point to as a clear violation of an order. The tape was not the one used by LLDF or anyone else for fund raising. Bushnell knew very well it wasn’t, as is clear from her response to Anderson’s petition, but Swope directed his questioning as though it were, creating an impression the “illicit” tape was being used to exploit Terri. Schindler denied adamantly having received any money from LLDF.
Greer didn’t show particular interest in fundraising efforts of LLDF or how Anderson is paid, but he was clearly annoyed by the fact that a tape had been made in violation of one of his rulings, according to observers, and refused to restore full visitation rights to family at that moment.
He promised to issue a ruling by June 4 and allowed the Schindlers one unsupervised visit on Saturday.
Information, including court documents, are posted on the Schindler family website.