WASHINGTON, May 13, 2013 — Physician Kermit Gosnell was convicted Monday of three counts of first-degree murder and could face execution in the deaths of three babies who were delivered alive after abortion attempts, and then killed by severing their spinal cords with scissors. Gosnell, 72, was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the overdose death of an abortion patient.
He was cleared in the death of a fourth baby, who prosecutors say let out a whimper before the doctor cut the spinal cord.
Over a 30-year career Gosnell performed thousands of abortions, some on patients as young as 13, earning he and his wife Pearl, a cosmetologist, about $1.8 million annually, much of it in cash.
Authorities found $250,000 hidden in a bedroom when they searched his house. As a result of his predatory practices, Gosnell was also able to acquire a beach home and several rental properties.
“He created an assembly line with no regard for these women whatsoever,” McDonough County (PA) Assistant District Attorney Ed Cameron said. “And he made money doing that.”
What may be the longest lasting impact to the abortion debate is that Gosnell portrayed himself as an advocate for the poor women living in the West Philadelphia neighborhood where is clinic was located. The clinic was sanctioned by Planned Parenthood, which apparently failed to do even the least rudimentary checks on Gosnell’s practice.
The jury deliberated for 10 days on what was a compiicated, emotionally charged case with multiple charges. Defense attorney Jack McMahon called it a “very difficult case” to defend and said there was “a little bit of feeling on the defense part of what salmon must feel swimming upstream.”
“There’s a lot of emotion. You have the baby factor, which is a big problem. The media has been overwhelmingly against him,” he said. But noting that Gosnell was cleared on some of the charges, McMahon said the jurors “obviously took their job seriously.”
Following the jury’s verdict, prosecutors showed restrained smiles while District Attorney Seth Williams declined comment, citing the court’s gag order.
Clinic employees testified that Gosnell routinely performed post 24-week abortions, past Pennsylvania’s legal time limit and that when babies were delivered “moving, whimpering or breathing” he murdered the newborns by “snipping” their spines at the base of the skull.
“Are you human?” prosecutor Cameron snarled during closing arguments. “To med these women up and stick knives in the backs of babies?”
His co-defendant, former clinic employee Eileen O’Neill, was convicted of taking part in a corrupt organization and illegally billing for her services as if she were a licensed doctor.
The toll of the trial was visible on the jury as, before the verdicts were read, the foreman let out a big sigh, while another juror could be seen visibly crying.
Over the two year investigation, details of unspeakable horrors and malfeasance emerged during what was first an investigation of simple prescription drug trafficking. Entering the clinic, investigators said it was a “foul-smelling “house of horrors” with bags and bottles of fetuses, including jars of severed feet, along with bloodstained furniture, dirty medical instruments, and cats roaming the premises.”
The trial of Kermit Gosnell, and the horrific conditions and inhumane practices committed in the clinic have energized both sides of the abortion debate.
Anti-abortion activists point to the fact that Pennsylvania authorities failed to conduct routine clinic inspections for more than 15 years by the time Gosnell’s facility was raided as proof that abortions should not be legal.
In the scandal’s aftermath, two top state health officials were fired, and tougher rules for clinics in Pennsylvania have been enacted.
“This has helped more people realize what abortion is really about,” said David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee. He said he hopes the case results in more states passing bills that prohibit abortion “once the unborn child can feel pain.”
Supporters of legalized abortion said the case was a preview of what poor, desperate young women could face if abortion is driven underground with more restrictive laws.
“Kermit Gosnell has been found guilty and will get what he deserves. Now, let’s make sure these women are vindicated by delivering what all women deserve: access to the full range of health services including safe, high-quality and legal abortion care,” said Ilyse G. Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
The trial also ignited debate when anti-abortion activists accused the liberally oriented mainstream news media of deliberately ignoring the case, publishing pictures of an empty courtroom devoid of reporters or cameras.
Major news organizations denied that they were intentionally avoiding coverage of the trial, many citing that it was a “local” trial, though a number promptly sent reporters to pick up coverage.
About 30 reporters were in court for the verdict.
NOTE: Some of the following details may be disturbing to readers.
Citing lack of evidence, three of seven murder counts involving aborted fetuses were thrown out by Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart. That left the jury to weigh charges involving fetuses identified as Baby A, Baby C, Baby D and Baby E.
Of those infants, prosecution experts said one was nearly 30 weeks along when the abortion took place. It was this baby that that Gosnell allegedly morbidly joked could “walk to the bus.”
A second baby was said to be alive for about 20 minutes before a clinic worker snipped the neck. A third was born in a toilet and was moving before another clinic employee severed the spinal cord, according to testimony.
Baby E, it is alleged, let out a whimper before Gosnell cut the neck. Gosnell was acquitted in that baby’s death, the only one of the four in which no one testified to seeing the baby killed.
Gosnell’s defense attorney McMahon argued that any movements following birth were “posthumous twitching or spasms” and not indications of life. McMahon also said that prosecutors were “elitist” and “racist” for pursuing his client, who is black and whose patients were mostly poor minorities.
“I wanted to be an effective, positive force in the minority community,” Gosnell told The Philadelphia Daily News in a 2010 interview. “I believe in the long term I will be vindicated.”
The 2009 death of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar of Woodbridge, Va., a Bhutanese immigrant who had been given repeated doses of Demerol and other powerful drugs to sedate her and induce labor, was caused by unforeseen complications and did not amount to murder, as prosecutors charged, according to McMahon.
Bernard Smalley, a lawyer for the woman’s family, said he now hopes to bring “some sense of justice and quiet to this family that’s been through so much.”
Gosnell still faces federal drug charges. Authorities said that he ranked third in the state for OxyContin prescriptions and that he left blank prescription pads at his office and let staff members make them out to cash-paying patients.
The Associated Press contributed to the report.
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