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Mark Fuhrman: The facts of Terri Schiavo’s life

In “Silent Witness,” the former detective looks into the events surrounding Schiavo’s collapse that left her in a vegetative state. Read an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

Mark Fuhrman, a retired LAPD detective, is the author of various “New York Times” best sellers, including “Murder in Brentwood,” a look into the O.J. Simpson case. In “Silent Witness,” Fuhrman uses his investigative skills to examine the evidence and records of Terri Schiavo, delving deep into the life aspect of her case, not just the legal one. Here's an excerpt:

Fourteen Days to Die

Friday, March 18, 2005

"I felt like Terri was finally going to get what she wants, and be at peace and be with the Lord." —Michael Schiavo

"I'm begging you, don't let my daughter die." —Mary Schindler

At 1:45 P.M. Terri Schiavo's gastric feeding tube is removed, following a court order. Schiavo, a forty-one-year-old female, collapsed in her home on February 25, 1990, and suffered severe brain damage because of lack of oxygen to the brain. The precise cause of her collapse remains unknown, although there is speculation that it was the result of a potassium imbalance caused by an eating disorder.

Terri is being cared for at Hospice House Woodside in Pinellas Park, Florida. It is expected that she will die within seven to fourteen days. Courts have ruled that Terri is in a "persistent vegetative state," meaning that damage to her cerebral cortex has rendered her incapable of emotion, memory, or thought. This diagnosis is contested by her parents and siblings, the Schindlers.

Her husband, Michael Schiavo, has argued that Terri would not have wanted to be kept alive in her current condition. Although Terri had left no written instructions on whether or not she wished her life to be terminated in such a condition, a court has accepted testimony from her husband and in-laws that she told them she would not want to be kept alive if incapacitated.

The legal struggle between Schiavo and the Schindlers has lasted more than twelve years, with courts consistently ruling in the husband's favor. This is the third time the feeding tube has been removed.

Michael Schiavo has two children with his fiancée, Jodi Centonze. If he divorces Terri, he loses custody of her. The guardianship and her estate would be inherited by her immediate family, who have said they would keep her alive. Michael has been in a relationship with Centonze since 1995. Since 1993, the Schindlers have asked Michael to divorce Terri, give up custody, and let them take responsibility for her care. He has always refused.

"Michael and Jodi, you have your own children. Please, please give my child back to me." —Mary Schindler

"The courts have repeatedly said, this case is not about Mrs. Schindler, Mr. Schiavo or any other third party. It's about Mrs. Schiavo and her own wishes not to be kept alive artificially." —George Felos, Attorney for Michael Schiavo

The removal of Terri's feeding tube creates a political firestorm. A congressional committee issues subpoenas commanding Terri and Michael Schiavo, along with physicians and other hospice personnel, to appear before them. The committee also moves to intervene in the guardianship case between Schiavo and the Schindlers, and asks circuit-court judge George Greer to stay his order requiring the removal of the feeding tube. Greer denies both motions. The committee's appeals go as high as the U.S. Supreme Court, and are all denied. The Schindlers file a petition for habeas corpus, the same procedure used for prisoners awaiting execution, in the federal district court. Their petition is dismissed.

"Certainly an incapacitated person deserves at least the same protection afforded criminals sentenced to death." —Florida Governor Jeb Bush

Shortly after her feeding tube is removed, Terri Schiavo receives the Catholic ceremony of last rites. Michael Schiavo stays in a room down the hall. He remains at his wife's side throughout the day, except when her immediate family comes to see Terri. Visiting schedules at the hospice are arranged so that Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers do not see one another. The family spends their time in a thrift shop converted into a temporary headquarters across the street from the hospice. Protesters, most of them supporting the Schindlers, begin gathering outside the hospice.

Saturday, March 19

Police stand guard around the hospice to ensure that no one attempts to give Terri food or water. Barricades are set up on the street. The Schindlers have to pass three separate checkpoints, where they are searched and their IDs are verified, before they are allowed into Terri's room. They can visit only when Michael allows them to, and are not given fixed visiting hours. When they are not allowed to visit, the police will not tell them when to come back and try again. Several days later, the police decided to come over to the thrift shop to let them know when they could visit. Once inside the room, they are forbidden to take photographs or videos of Terri.

"It was horrible. We were treated like common criminals." —Robert Schindler, Terri's father

"It was like we shouldn't be there. We were doing something wrong." —Suzanne Vitadamo, Terri's sister

Delaying its Easter recess, the U.S. Senate convenes to give formal permission to the House of Representatives to return to session and draft legislation designed to have Terri's feeding tube reinserted.

"A woman's life is at stake, and it is absolutely imperative that we take action today." —Senator Kent Conrad (R–North Dakota)

Sunday, March 20

Although Terri has spent two days without nourishment or hydration, her family notices little change in her appearance. Her father takes her pulse and checks her skin for dehydration. He examines her pupils with a key-chain flashlight — until police see the flashlight and tell him he can no longer bring it into the room.

Only a few senators are present in the unprecedented session, held on a rainy afternoon in the middle of the Easter recess. The House debate will follow, as members hastily return from their home districts.

"Right now, murder is being committed against a defenseless American citizen." —Representative Tom Delay (R-Texas)

"This is heart-wrenching for all Americans. But the issue before this Congress is not an emotional one. It is simply one that respects the rule of law." —Representative Robert Wexler (D-Florida)

Monday, March 21

Waiting for Congress to vote on the bill that might save Terri's life, her family spends all night in the thrift store. After three hours of heated partisan debate, the U.S. House passes, by a 203–58 margin, U.S. Senate Compromise Bill 686 "for the relief of the parents of Theresa Marie Schiavo." The bill would transfer the case to a U.S. District Court for review.

President Bush flies back from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, to sign the bill into law in Washington, D.C.

"It is always wise to err on the side of life." —President George W. Bush

Excerpted from “Silent Witness,” by Mark Fuhrman. Copyright © 2005 by Mark Fuhrman. Published by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from the publisher.