Another legal defeat for Schindler’s parents

A federal appeals court panel refused to order the reinsertion of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube Friday, hours after the severely brain-damaged woman’s father said she was weakening and down “to her last hours.”

In its ruling, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said it had already ruled on most of the issues raised in the latest appeal, and that other issues raised did not apply to the case.

It marked the third time in four days the court had denied an emergency request made by Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler.

Doctors have said she would probably die within a week or two of the feeding tube being removed, which was done March 18 after a judge sided with her husband’s argument that she would not want to be kept alive artificially. Dehydration has taken its toll on the 41-year-old woman, producing flaky skin, dry tongue and lips, and sunken eyes, according to attorneys and friends of the Schindlers.

“Terri is weakening. She’s down to her last hours. Something has to be done and has to be done quick,” said Bob Schindler, who visited his daughter Friday morning. After a later visit, he added: “I told her that we’re still fighting for her, and she shouldn’t give up because we’re not. But I think the people who are anxious to see her die are getting their wish.”

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta was the same court that has ruled against the parents twice this week.

Michael Schiavo’s attorneys argued that the Schindlers had abandoned all pretense of the law and are simply making “a pure emotional appeal.”

Another legal maneuver included a late afternoon filing asking Pinellas Circuit Judge George Greer to order the reinsertion of the tube, claiming Terri Schiavo tried to say “I want to live” when her tube was removed. The motion said Schiavo was asked to repeat that phrase and responded: “AHHHHH” and “WAAAAAAA.”

Doctors who have examined her for the court case have said her previous utterances weren’t speech, but were involuntary moans consistent with someone in a vegetative state. Greer, who had ordered the tube removed, ended a hearing later Friday; he was expected to announce a decision by noon Saturday.

In the hearing, Schindler attorney David Gibbs III urged Greer to act quickly because he expected “Terri to step into eternity this Easter weekend.” George Felos, the attorney for her husband Michael Schiavo, said the belief Terri Schiavo can speak was “crossing the line” into an abuse of the legal system.

Greer also denied a new request by the parents Friday to recuse himself from the case.

U.S. District Judge James Whittemore wrote earlier in the day that the parents could not establish “a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” of their case. He also noted “the difficulties and heartbreak the parties have endured throughout this lengthy process.”

Gov. Jeb Bush has been a staunch supporter of the Schindlers, and his office was still clinging to hope Friday that the courts would allow the state to provide emergency care for Schiavo.

“We are continuing to do whatever we can and we are pursuing all the options available to us in this case,” Bush spokesman Jacob DiPietre said.

But supporters of Michael Schiavo said the time for challenges had ended.

“All the politicians who injected themselves into this tragic and personal matter now need to begin respecting both the law and the legal process even if they disagree with the result that was reached in this case,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Florida chapter.

Terri Schiavo has been without food and water longer than she was in 2003, when the tube was removed for six days and five hours. It was reinserted when Bush and the Legislature pushed through a law that was later thrown out by the state Supreme Court.

Many supporters of the Schindlers say Bush could simply ignore the courts and take emergency custody of Schiavo.

“Now is the day. Now is the time for the governor to have courage,” said Paul O’Donnell, a Franciscan monk and Schindler family supporter. “The governor needs to take action and take action soon. She’s dying.”

On Thursday, a Rockford, Ill., man was arrested in Seminole after trying to steal a weapon from a gun shop. Michael W. Mitchell, 20, told deputies he wanted to “take some action and rescue Terri Schiavo” after he visited the Pinellas Park hospice where she lives, an official said. Seminole is about 5 miles west of Pinellas Park.

Bush said Thursday he is not willing to go beyond the boundaries of his powers.

An attorney for Michael Schiavo also rejected arguments that Bush could overturn years of court orders in the husband’s favor.

“Jeb Bush does not own the state of Florida and just cannot impose his will on Terri Schiavo,” George Felos told CBS’ “The Early Show” on Friday. Felos declined comment to The Associated Press.

Outside the hospice where Terri Schiavo lay, eight more people – including a 10-year old boy and 13-year-old twin girls – were arrested Friday for trying to bring her water.

“I don’t want her to die,” Joshua Heldreth, 10, from North Carolina, said before his arrest. “I’m not afraid because God is with me.”

Also, the FBI said a man was arrested Friday in Fairview, N.C., on charges of sending an e-mail threat, allegedly for offering a $250,000 bounty for Michael Schiavo’s death and $50,000 for that of a judge in the case. The FBI did not immediately identify the judge.

Terri Schiavo suffered brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly from a chemical imbalance believed to have been brought on by an eating disorder. She left no living will.

Associated Press writers Mark Long and Mitch Stacy in Clearwater, Vickie Chachere and Jill Barton in Tampa, and Jackie Hallifax and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Associated Press