March 14, 2005
JUDGE IN SCHIAVO CASE HAS IGNORED GRAVE ALLEGATIONS OF HUSBAND'S 'INTIMIDATION'Topics: News
The judge presiding over the life of Terri Schiavo has ignored potentially explosive claims detailing what those making them believe is a pattern of unusual and allegedly perhaps even violent behavior by her husband, behavior they fear may have factored into the demise of the Florida woman to begin with.
The allegations are just that: assertions by a number of people who are on the opposite side of the debate over the fate of Michael Schiavo's wife -- who has languished in a severely disabled but hardly vegetative state since February 25, 1990, when she was found in a collapsed state between a hall and bathroom during the early morning hours. As allegations, they should be held with a degree of circumspection that provides a presumption of innocence until more evidence is brought to the table.
Moreover, it must be remembered at each turn that there is a bitter dispute at the heart of the issue.
But they are serious allegations, and it was apparently these assertions that caused the state's Department of Children and Families to ask for a 60-day delay in the March 18 date for removal of Terri's feeding and hydrations tubes, saying it wanted time to investigate allegations of "abuse" and "neglect" against Michael, who has since taken up with another woman with whom he has two children.
The judge, George W. Greer of the Sixth Circuit in Pinellas County, has denied that request for a delay, as he has denied virtually all substantive motions by her parents, the Schindlers -- who are desperately fighting to keep their daughter alive and who have now called for the judge's impeachment on the grounds of partiality.
Last week the Schindlers alluded again to the pattern of behavior on the part of their son-in-law, commenting that after Michael Schiavo has denied Terri therapy for so many years and “denied our family any opportunity to help her, we can only come to the conclusion that he is not comfortable with the prospects of her regaining her abilities to speak and communicate to us the reasons for her collapse."
Terri's father Robert says he is "more than 90 percent sure" that violence on the part of the husband factored into his daughter's disabled condition. "My family feels that based on all of this mounting evidence there is a strong possibility that what happened to Terri was a result of a violent attack by her husband Michael Schiavo," wrote Terri's brother to Spirit Daily.
Both Schiavo and his attorney, George Felos, have stridently denied such allegations.
It is time, however, to explore these assertions in more depth, and for this we go to a compilation of documents, including sworn affidavits and court testimony, provided by the Schindlers.
There is first of all the husband's alleged temperament. According to some of those who know him, Michael Richard Schiavo, at 6'6" and about 250 pounds, cast an intimidating presence made all the more so by what the Schindlers claim were severe mood swings.
"Most people, particularly Terri, were easily intimidated because of Michael's size," says a background sheet distributed by her parents. "It has been documented that Michael had rages of anger and would use his physical stature to bully people, and as indicated in their attached personal experiences and affidavits, it was mostly women that were the subject of Michael's episodes of anger."
Terri's brother, Bobby, a school teacher, says that "my family would often wonder, before Michael and Terri would come for a visit, which Michael was going to show up."
When the family was still living in Philadelphia, Bobby says the had an argument with Schiavo and that "Michael got so upset that he suddenly snapped, and grabbed me by the throat and threw me down on the couch, had one hand around my neck and the other was in the air ready to punch me in the face."
Bobby asserts that his sister Terri "asked me to please not tell our parents because it would upset them too much."
Father Robert says that Terri would occasionally show up at the house with bruises and when asked about them would explain them away as from "horsing around."
In the weeks leading up to the incident in which Terri mysteriously collapsed (some say from an imbalance in her body chemistry), the family asserts that their daughter was speaking of divorcing her husband of six years.
In testimony on January 26, 2000 -- testimony largely ignored by the mainstream media -- a friend named Jackie Rhodes stated under oath that the last time she spoke to Terri, February 24, 1990 -- the day before her "collapse" -- Terri was "very, very upset" and "sounded like she had been crying. I asked her if she was okay. She said she had a fight with Michael."
Schiavo denies he had any fight leading up to the incident.
Several weeks before her collapse, Terri had a "breakdown" at a Bennigan's Restaurant, according to brother Bobby. "Just outside the restroom in the hallway, Terri turned to me and started to cry," he says. "I asked her what was wrong and she said that she wanted to divorce Michael. I remember asking if she spoke to mom and dad about this, and Terri was adamant about not telling my father how unhappy she was. She had a tough time settling down and kept repeating to me, 'Bobby, I wish I had the guts to divorce him because I would in a second.'"
In a situation as emotional as the current confrontation between the Schindlers and Schiavo over removal of Terri's feeding tube, it must be remembered that every detail must be weighed in light of such understandable emotionality. That others make similar assertions, however, argues for a full airing of what exactly transpired in a relationship that could play out at the end of this week -- when, if Michael gets his way, Terri's feeding tubes will be removed.
Indeed, friend Jackie Rhodes has testified that she and Terri spoke of a possible divorce "on several occasions."
It was Michael who called paramedics after the collapse of Terri, who was later found to have signs of fractures in a number of areas but who showed no outward sign of violence when police arrived -- leaving those fractures to remain as what a former attorney calls "a true mystery." Were they the result of a fracas, or due to overly aggressive physical therapy once Terri was institutionalized?
On March 5, 1991, a bone scan of Terri revealed a healed broken right femur bone and healed fractures in Terri's ribs, pelvis, spine, and ankle. The radiologist, Dr. W. Campbell Walker, concluded that Terri had "a history of trauma."
A police spokesman told Spirit Daily that a physical exam at the time of the incident detected no trauma to the head or neck, and there were no official records relating to reports of previous abuse, causing detectives to drop the matter, which initially was routed, as are all peculiar circumstances, to the homicide division.
The police saw no signs of a struggle that would indicate that they were dealing with a crime scene. And they argue that they can no longer investigate the case, because the statute of limitations on aggravated battery, if it occurred, would have elapsed.
But the mere circumstances set the stage for a series of questions: Has the judge properly considered the husband's behavior in granting him such authority over the matter? Or is there a conspiracy of silence among those who hope that after March 18 this matter -- controversial now for years -- will finally fade away?
Within 48 hours of Terri's admittance to the hospital that February morning, the attorney for Michael's employer arrived at the hospital. It was at this momentous point that the lawyer consulted with Terri's parents outside of Intensive Care and recommended that they sign documents that would allow Michael to handle Terri's medical affairs in order to expedite emergency treatment. When Terri was admitted to the hospital, says the family, it was noted that there was stiffness in her neck, and later medical exams detected the anomalies that could be consistent with an assault.
Emphasize the word "could."; it is only a possibility. But it is a deeply disturbing one and further details complicate defense attempts to dismiss the allegations. To wit:
Terri's sister, Suzanne Vitadamo, claims that she too had an argument with Michael in an episode after Terri's collapse when he "started to lunge toward me and I thought that he was going to punch me in the face. My father had to step between us before he got to me."
Was this simply part of Michael's personality, or the result of strain from what had happened to his wife? I
At least one other woman who had a relationship with Schiavo asserted intimidation. Her name is Cindy Shook, and she reportedly took up with Michael more than a year after the collapse. In a May 8, 2001 deposition, Shook claimed that Michael "stalked" her after she stopped dating him and described him as at times "the most incredibly mean person." Highly reluctant to come forward due to her fears, Shook expressed concerns for her children and husband.
"One time he was behind me in traffic, he got next to me in a two-lane going the same way, and he changed lanes basically right on top of where I was at, and I had to swerve not to be hit," Shook testified. "I considered it as stalking, dangerous and guessed potentially life-threatening." Cindy said that Schiavo got angry when asked about wife Terri, saying that "this had destroyed his life and he was being robbed of a normal life."
Pat Anderson, an attorney who represented the Schindlers for more than three years and took many of the depositions, says that she scrutinized such testimony carefully and that "I've never seen an adult as scared as Cindy Shook."
Meanwhile, Carla Sauer Iyer, a nurse who tended to Terri from April 1995 to July 1996, has likewise described a pattern of intense intimidation and asserts that after Michael visited at the nursing home, Palm Garden of Largo Convalescent Center, Terri would clench her fists and be in a "cold sweat."
Concerned about what might be transpiring in the room, and the general tenor of Schiavo, who allegedly became upbeat anytime Terri showed signs of illness, "I ultimately called the police relative to this situation, and was terminated the next day," testified Iyer, who added that "I became fearful for my personal safety. This was due to Michael's constant intimidation, including his menacing body language, vocal tone, and mannerisms."
Where does this lead us? What are we to think?
We can come to no conclusions. We can not convict anyone at this stage. We are not out to accuse, nor to judge. Our mission is one of prayer. But a life is now at stake, and it is painfully obvious that the system has failed in clearing this matter through an investigation -- which it must do, taking the matter out of the hands of the judge and placing Terri into the care of her parents. Such an inquiry would either substantiate the case against Michael Schiavo or clear his name. In that vein, it seems inexplicable that Judge Greer, local police, the state attorney, federal officials and other authorities have ignored such grave descriptions of events in a case that will one day be seen as momentous.
Posted by richard at March 14, 2005 10:44 AM
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