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Court Considers McDougal Illness

Her hearing put off for a week, Susan McDougal will undergo a medical test that could help determine whether she should be freed from her two-year Whitewater sentence because of a health problem.

Whitewater prosecutors agreed with her doctors Thursday that she should undergo magnetic resonance imaging, known as an MRI.

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U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. postponed the hearing until next Thursday so that she can have the diagnostic imaging done in the meantime.

McDougal contends that her prison term has worsened a curvature of the spine she has had since birth. Her lawyer, Mark Geragos, said the MRI would help her case.

"I can't imagine it's not going to show what I suspect, which is that she's got a degenerative spinal condition that's causing her immense pain," Geragos said outside court. "She can't get the kind of care and attention in the prison system that she needs."

Prosecutor Mark Barrett suggested that any health problem McDougal has could be treated in prison.

"We want to have our expert look at the results and tell us what the medical assessment is," Barrett said.

McDougal was convicted in 1996 with then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and her former husband, the late James McDougal, in the Whitewater investigation.

Before starting her prison term in March, Mrs. McDougal served 18 months in prison on a contempt citation for refusing to testify before the Whitewater grand jury about President Clinton's business activities in Arkansas.

She is awaiting trial on an embezzlement charge in California and faces more time in prison if convicted of criminal contempt and obstruction of justice counts in a federal indictment returned in May.

By JAMES JEFFERSON

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