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LAWLESS: Not every crime is against the law


WORLD Radio - LAWLESS: Not every crime is against the law

Meet WORLD’s newest true crime podcast, Lawless, hosted by author Lynn Vincent

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MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, April 29th.

Thank you so much for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the case of Terri Schiavo.

You may remember the Terri Schiavo story as a bitter legal war over a disabled woman’s right to live or right to die.

But the Schiavo case was—and is—so much more. It’s a story of love and lies, money and betrayal. And the cast of characters? An ordinary American family caught in the glare of an international media spotlight. A husband with a changing story and a history of violence. A civil rights attorney who claimed to be on the side of law and reason but actually championed death in the service of his own spiritual awakening. Before the Schiavo case ended, it would wrap in a governor, a president, and even the pope.

REICHARD: Terri Schiavo’s story is the subject of LAWLESS, an upcoming true crime podcast with New York Times bestselling author and investigative journalist, Lynn Vincent. Here’s a preview.


LYNN VINCENT: It’s not every day that a call-in radio show saves a life.


But that’s exactly what happened 20 years ago this week in Florida, when a bouncy little nighttime show for soccer moms…

CARRIE KIRKLAND: My show was light and fluffy and fun.

...saved the life of a severely disabled woman, and changed the entire course of a story that would first rivet America—and then the world.

You might remember this story. Terri Schiavo, a pretty, dark-haired woman with a mischievous sense of humor, turned heads when she walked into a room. But in the middle of the night on February 25, 1990, she collapsed in her St. Petersburg apartment under mysterious circumstances.

Deprived of oxygen for several minutes, Terri survived, but suffered severe brain damage. She needed help with food and water, so her nutrition was delivered through a gastrointestinal feeding tube.

At first, Michael, her husband of seven years, worked closely with Terri’s parents, Robert and Mary Schindler, to care for her. But after receiving medical malpractice judgments totalling more than $2 million, Michael Schiavo stopped all rehabilitation and cut the Schindlers out of Terri’s life.

NEWSCLIP (NBC): Schiavo said he realized his wife would never recover. And in 1998 as her legal guardian, he filed a petition to end her life.

Schiavo and his lawyer, George Felos, argued that Terri was in what is known as a “persistent vegetative state,” or PVS, a kind of waking unawareness.

But Bobby Schindler, Terri’s brother, says his sister laughed, cried, felt pain, and responded to visitors.

BOBBY SCHINDLER: She was starting to form words, and our entire family was encouraged and hopeful.

When Schiavo filed his 1998 motion to have Terri’s feeding tube removed, Mary Schindler was horrified, but she was also confident.

BOBBY SCHINDLER: I would go to bed and think to myself: “There is no way in the entire world that they’re going to starve a disabled person to death.”

Then, in January 2000, Judge George Greer issued his ruling. According to Greer, Michael Schiavo had proven in court that his wife would not have wanted to live hooked up to a feeding tube. Greer authorized Schiavo to have Terri’s tube removed. As a result, an otherwise healthy woman with decades left to live would be dehydrated to death.


PROTEST: Glory be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost...

Pinellas Park, Florida, April 24, 2001. Inside Woodside Hospice, Terri Schiavo lay in a dark, tiny room with a single bed. As a police officer guarded the door, a doctor disconnected Terri’s feeding tube and a countdown began.

Within a week to ten days, she would expire of dehydration, an excruciating way to die. Twenty-four hours had passed when help came from a very strange place. One might even call it providential.


KIRKLAND: That particular night, I was literally going to go on the air with, you know, call in and tell me about your first kiss…

Instead, Carrie Kirkland decided to cover something more serious: the Terri Schiavo story. Carrie opened her phone lines and then—and then, a phone call that changed everything.

CINDY SHOOK: I’m sort of personal with this case, because I was the girl that Michael Schiavo dated after his wife had her heart attack...

That’s Cindy Shook, a woman Michael Schiavo had been dating even as he told that malpractice jury that he believed in his wedding vows and planned to take care of Terri for the rest of his life.

SHOOK: And he used to go visit her at the nursing home while we were dating, and he said immediately, as soon as he got near the door, her head was already looking at the door because she would recognize his voice, right? And she would start crying when he got ready to leave.

Shook’s call was a bombshell, raising questions about Schiavo’s claim that Terri was in a persistent vegetative state. Terri’s father, Robert Schindler, speed-dialed his attorneys, who sent a private investigator to Cindy Shook’s door. More revelations: According to the investigator, Shook said Michael Schiavo told her that he and Terri had never discussed end-of-life issues.

Shook would later say the investigator misunderstood what she said. Still, with lightning speed, Schindler attorney Pat Anderson filed a motion with Judge George Greer. With her sister disconnected from food and water, Suzanne Schindler describes what happened next:

SUZANNE SCHINDLER: It was just all of a sudden like a whirlwind, to try to use the new information that she had immediately, because now time is of the essence.

The investigator’s report raised the specter that Michael Schiavo had perjured himself when he claimed Terri said she would not have wanted to live.

Anderson argued in court that, based on this new evidence, Terri’s feeding tube must be reinserted. But Greer denied the motion, saying the new evidence came one month too late.

Enter Florida Attorney Jim Eckert, one of the most successful litigators in Pinellas County.

JIM ECKERT: I got a phone call from Patricia Anderson—they had a very important case that needed my service.

Eckert filed suit in the court of Judge Frank Quesada, outside Greer’s jurisdiction. The new attorney asked for an injunction that would cause Terri’s feeding tube to be reinserted pending an investigation of Michael Schiavo. The Schindlers were not in the courtroom.

BOBBY SCHINDLER: We were in my parents living room, and we were watching Bay News Nine and they interrupted their regular program with breaking news that the judge had just issued an injunction or something and Terri's feeding tube was to be reinserted. I remember it was my mom, my dad, Suzanne. We're just jumping up and down hugging each other. We were just overjoyed that they were going to start feeding Terri again. And we felt very encouraged that we were going to save her life right there.

After 48 hours without food or water, Terri Schiavo got her feeding tube back.. As it turned out, though, the battle to save Terri Schiavo was just beginning. The Florida governor took notice. Then Congress. Then the president, the Supreme Court, and even the pope.

This wasn’t just a family affair anymore. Soon, the whole world was watching the Terri Schiavo story. It was a case that would test the moral fiber of a nation.

BASHAM: Stay tuned for LAWLESS, a new podcast from WORLD Radio, premiering this later this year.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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