The defense made closing argument in the multiple murder trial of Kermit Gosnell today, and the Philadelphia abortion doctor’s attorney, Jack McMahon, was briefly funny and mostly furious.
McMahon directed a long, two-hour-plus attack at what he continually referred to as “the tsunami”—a storm of publicity that erased any notion Gosnell might be innocent.
When Gosnell’s trial began eight weeks ago, he faced seven counts of first degree homicide for allegedly killing seven live-born babies with surgical scissors. He faced one count of third degree homicide in the death of Karnamaya Mongar, a woman who came to him seeking an abortion and died, allegedly from an overdose of anesthetic. Last week, however, Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart gave a directed verdict of not guilty in three of those first degree homicide counts, agreeing with McMahon that prosecutors did not present enough evidence to take to the jury.
McMahon argued today that the jury should throw out the remaining homicide cases, too, saying the prosecution’s contention that Gosnell was running a “house of horrors” was not just a gross exaggeration but clearly false. He even showed the jurors the prosecution’s own evidence to make his case, redisplaying photos of the clinic and saying, “Look at the walls. Look at the floor! Do you see any blood there? Is that a house of horrors?”
From there, he marched the jurors through each individual homicide count, arguing that the prosecution did not prove any of the babies it alleges were murdered had ever been born alive—that all movements witnesses attested to were consistent with post-mortem “nerve twitching.” Further, he argued, though prosecutors alleged Gosnell regularly murdered live babies, the 47 fetuses recovered from his clinic offered no evidence to support that claim. He reminded the jury that even Philadelphia city medical examiner Sam Gulino said he could not testify that any of the babies had been born alive.
McMahon said the whole case was a “rush to judgment” and that the third degree charge related to Mongar was the direct result of “the tsunami.”
“This death was ruled an ‘accident,’” he said, “till the grand jury was convened and the examiner met with the district attorney’s office and then it was suddenly a homicide—with no new information.”
McMahon closed by telling jurors a story about being made to read Profiles in Courage in gradeschool. “If you can stand up to this tsunami,” he said, “and review the case on the evidence—not what everyone wishes it to be, but what it is—you’ll be a profile in courage too.”
The prosecution is expected to begin its argument at 3 p.m.
UPDATE 6:15 p.m. 4/29/13:
Prosecutor Ed Cameron delivered a long closing argument that compounded many of the prosecution’s problems, leading jurors over nearly three hours through the testimony of roughly 40 witnesses.
What the prosecution’s case most needed, over the last eight weeks, was clarity: The babies Gosnell was accused of killing have been largely faceless and unidentifiable, even in death. But Cameron spent just a few minutes toward the end of his closing talking about specific babies and reviewing the evidence in each instance.
He also appeared clearly flustered by McMahon’s performance. The defense attorney had been loose enough to joke with jurors during his closing—even stopping, twice, to tie his shoes.
“You might say I like Jack at the end of this,” Cameron said, “but I hated Ed. But I don’t care.”
The question is if any of that will matter now. Jurors are expected to begin their deliberations tomorrow.