Gosnell Guilty on 3 Counts of First-Degree Murder


 
A few minutes after hearing the guilty verdicts against him, while attorneys huddled with the judge, Kermit Gosnell continued to shake his head in disbelief. Alternating between derisive snorts, and a bemused, sometimes bitter-looking smile, Gosnell stared into the jury box, seemingly unable to accept what had just happened to him—or what he faces next.

Gosnell will face a death penalty hearing, beginning May 21st, after being found guilty by a jury of six women and six men, in the first degree homicide of three babies born alive in his abortion clinic.

Gosnell was also convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a woman who was administered an overdose of drugs during an abortion procedure.

He was also convicted of performing more than 20 illegal abortions on babies in the third trimester of development.

Kermit Gosnell first captured the public’s attention—and disgust—after the February 2010 raid of his West Philadelphia clinic. A notably blood-soaked grand jury report—and a pile of indictments—arrived the following year.

The grand jury report referred to Gosnell’s West Philadelphia clinic, in operation for nearly 40 years at 3801 Lancaster Avenue [WATCH VIDEO: Kermit Gosnell Documentary 3801 Lancaster], as a “baby charnel house,” and the media dubbed it a “House of Horrors.” The report cited walls, floors and blankets stained with blood. Gosnell used yellowing, outdated equipment and unsterilized instruments on a patient base largely too poor to go elsewhere. He trained his medical assistants to perform ultrasounds and administer dangerous narcotics, a function for which they were grossly unqualified. The two additional doctors who staffed his clinic, the Atlantic Women’s Medical Center, held medical degrees but no licenses.

Gosnell’s methods, however, shattered even more sacred orthodoxies. Under state law, abortions cannot be performed after 24 weeks of pregnancy, but the report alleged Gosnell took in women his staff often recognized, at first glance, as “too big.” Ultrasounds confirmed that some of these women were 26 weeks pregnant or more, at least two weeks past the state limit, and carrying babies potentially able to survive even a premature delivery. But Gosnell allegedly treated all his legal second-trimester and illegal third-trimester patients the same way: He induced labor through the use of Cytotec, to soften the cervix, and he had his staff of unqualified personnel feed these women so much Cytotec that sometimes the babies just dropped out of their mothers—on chairs and floors and into toilets.

These babies, some allegedly delivered alive and viable, all faced the same fate. Gosnell, or a staff member he trained in the “procedure,” took a pair of surgical scissors and stabbed it into the soft flesh at the back of the baby’s neck, severing the spinal cord. Gosnell called this “snipping” and told his staff it was all perfectly legal and, in fact, “standard procedure.” Gosnell saved the feet of some of these babies, cutting them off and preserving them in specimen jars, tiny toes poking out of formaldehyde murk.

Gosnell’s alleged victims also included the women who came to him for abortions and ended up with perforations to their bowels or uterus and sometimes severe infections. One woman, 22-year-old Semika Shaw, died of a sepsis infection. Another, Karnamaya Mongar, received such a heavy dose of sedatives, including a lethal dose of demerol, that her attempt to have her 19-week-long pregnancy terminated left her dead.

When the grand jury report was released, early in 2011, the grisly details triggered a predictable scrum among pro-choice and pro-life advocates, each of whom blamed the other for making the Gosnell “House of Horrors” possible.

Abortion opponents waved the findings around like a talisman—claiming that a desire to avoid political controversy and to honor calls to keep abortion accessible, had caused all the responsible government agencies to shirk their duties to investigate complaints or even conduct routine inspections. Gosnell’s clinic once went without inspection for 17 years. And the entire case built around his abortion practice was a kind of accident, triggered by a federal investigation into his “pain treatment” practice—a suspected “pill mill” allegedly responsible for funneling mass quantities of Oxycontin and Percocet into the city.

The pro-choice side retorted that a lack of access to safe, affordable abortion clinics was the real culprit, forcing mostly poor women into the corrupt halls of the only clinic that would have them.

The political right accused the media of ignoring Gosnell. Journalists on the left pointed to physical and virtual articles, in print and online, documenting the case. And for a time, the story of Gosnell’s clinic got lost in stories about whether the volume of coverage should have been greater. There were likely many reasons the story never became the center of national conversation. The fatal bombings at the Boston Marathon were one reason. The court’s policy of not allowing television cameras into the proceedings undoubtedly chased away network producers who act as if a case they can’t film simply isn’t happening. But the content of the trial itself likely comprised another. As a culture, we whisper the word “cancer,” but unless we are among the partisans in the debate, we tend not to speak about “abortion” at all. And at Kermit Gosnell’s trial, both legal and illegal abortion was described in often grisly detail, day after day and hour after grinding hour.

Prosecutors showed the jury multiple images of dead babies—allegedly born alive and past the gestational age at which abortion is legal—tiny fingers and toes, delicate limbs and new-baby locks of hair, these babies still and mottled and splayed out on exam tables or stuffed into a box. One image in particular, of a deep slit cut into the back of a baby boy’s neck, seemed to take all the blood described in the grand jury report and render it real—not words on a written indictment, but cruelty made manifest.

Defense attorney Jack McMahon, one of the top defense attorneys in town, put on a tremendous performance. He argued that there was no proof any baby was born alive, and got city medical examiner Sam Gulino, a prosecution witness, to agree with him under cross-examination.

Prosecutors questioned why any doctor would stab a dead baby in the back of the neck. But the case was far more of struggle than the grand jury report had led the media and public to believe. A trial attorney must tell jurors a story, and attorneys Ed Cameron and Joanne Pescatore had great difficulty lashing their 50-odd witnesses into a coherent narrative. In particular, they had to tie a raft of general anecdotes of live “babies” getting their necks “snipped” to the seven specific first degree murder cases involving Babies labeled “A-F.”

The pictures only went so far, proving too many and too few. And so their case was built almost entirely on eyewitness testimony by Gosnell’s staff, most of whom await sentencing on their own charges. Contradictions abounded. And what testimony applied to which baby?

Even Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart got confused. After testimony ended, Gosnell’s attorney, McMahon, argued that the prosecution had failed to make its case and asked Minehart to acquit the doctor of all charges. Minehart rejected most of McMahon’s argument, but did agree to acquit Gosnell on three of the first degree murder charges against him, declaring him “not guilty” in the murders of Babies “B,” “C” and “G.” The next day, however, he came in and amended himself, stating that he meant to acquit Gosnell on Baby “F” while allowing “C” to stand. The alphabet soup was difficult to follow. But the judge’s confusion made one clear statement just the same: The case was a muddle. Could anyone be certain of what the jury would do?

McMahon delivered a stirring closing argument. He brazenly argued that the entire prosecution of Gosnell, who is himself African-American, was “racist.” But more substantively, he noted how threadbare the prosecution’s case had really been. The clinic at 3801 Lancaster Avenue was, in fact, so insular that there was only one witness to this baby, two who disagreed over important details on that baby. Any movement a witness described seeing from a baby consisted of “one  leg,” “one arm” a “single” respiration—more consistent, he said, with some “post-death” nerve impulse than actual life.

Cameron, a veteran homicide prosecutor, closed miserably, from the depths of what he told jurors was a “fever” that had left him feeling weak.

But a story had emerged from 3801 Lancaster Avenue, a story that may have been as chaotic as the allegations of what occurred there, yet a story that was clear enough to the jury, which emerged after 10 days of deliberations and found Gosnell guilty on three of four remaining first degree homicide counts: One of his own employees had snapped a photograph of “Baby A,” because the baby was “so big”and looked like it could have been “born any day.” She also testified that Gosnell came in and whisked that baby away, to “snip” its neck. They found him guilty in the murder of Baby C, a baby that had pulled its arm back when an employee tugged. And they found him guilty in the murder of Baby D, a baby born into a toilet, where one staff member saw it swirling its arms around in the water before its neck was snipped.

Gosnell continued to shake his head and offer sour smiles for several minutes. The only recourse left to him, it seemed, was to act like he was somehow still above it all.

For more details on this case, read Steve Volk’s Inside the Trial of Abortion Doctor Kermit GosnellandGosnell Employee Took Photos of Clinic’s Horrors.”

Update [3:27 p.m.]: Kermit Gosnell has been found guilty on three of four charges of first-degree murder. He was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Karnamaya Mongar, the 41-year-old woman who died during an abortion proceeding. Lawyers will present cases on whether Gosnell should face the death penalty a week from tomorrow.

A verdict has been in reached in the case against Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. He is charged with four counts of first-degree murder for babies he allegedly killed, one count of third-degree murder, and 263 other offenses, so it will take a while for all of them to be divulged. Stay tuned for updates.

Gosnell Trial: Jury Hung on Two Counts [Updated]

The latest from the courtroom:

Updated [10:40 a.m.]

Gallup Poll Reveals Most Americans Don’t Care About Kermit Gosnell

Kirsten Powers’s mission to make the Kermit Gosnell trial “front-page news” has not been successful. (She was successful in generating a lot of content about the lack of Kermit Gosnell coverage, however.) A new poll from Gallup bears this out. Only 7% of Americans have been following the case “very closely” and 54% haven’t been following it at all. Let me put this another way. In the elevator at Philly Mag HQ this morning, the talk was not of local abortion doctor Gosnell, but of the Jodi Arias trial. The jury is still deliberating on the Gosnell case today.

U.S. Senate Determined To Make Kermit Gosnell The New Black Panthers Of Abortion

Politico reports that even when the Kermit Gosnell trial is over, the U.S. Senate has ensured it will never truly be over, only coincidentally keeping Gosnell alive as an anti-abortion cudgel for years to come. Know how we’re still talking about the New Black Panthers five years after Obama’s 2008 election? This is kind of the same thing.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a resolution Monday that calls on the Senate to review abortion policies in wake of the trial for Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion provider charged with first-degree murder for killing four babies and third-degree murder for killing one woman, in addition to other charges.

The resolution is co-signed by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and other Republican senators.

“Congress has the responsibility to investigate and conduct hearings on abortions performed near, at or after viability in the United States, public policies regarding such, and evaluate the extent to which such abortions involve violations of the natural right to life of infants who are born alive or are capable of being born alive, and therefore are entitled to equal protection under the law,” the resolution states.

Lee’s press release adds that the resolution “ is cosponsored by Sens. Toomey (PA), Rubio (FL), Cruz (TX), Inhofe (OK), Scott (SC), Blunt (MO), Burr (NC), Vitter (LA), Johanns (NE), and Boozman (AR).” Guess what: All dudes! C’mon guys! There are four female GOP senators! Couldn’t you have signed one of them up for this? No? Why is that?

Could Fox News Gosnell Documentary Result in a Mistrial?

Today, Kermit Gosnell’s lawyer arrived in court ripping mad that Fox aired an hour-long documentary called “See No Evil–The Kermit Gosnell Case” over the weekend. Wasn’t it likely that at least one of the jurors, who are still deliberating, saw it or caught wind of it? And if she did, surely her understanding of the case would be influenced.

At McMahon’s request, Judge Jeffrey Minehart asked the jury if they had seen the documentary, which aired on Friday night and over the weekend. No members of the panel said that they had seen it. Minehart nevertheless reminded the jury to avoid media coverage of the trial.

But might the Fox doc be his Kermit Gosnell’s new best friend? If nothing else, McMahon, who told reporters he’d “never seen anything so irresponsible in journalism,” could try to use “See No Evil” to argue for a mistrial. [Politico]

Gosnell Jury Breaks for Weekend Without Verdict

Jurors were excused for the weekend late today, with no verdict in the multiple homicide trial of Kermit Gosnell today. The jurors did ask several questions today suggesting they had moved considerably down the verdict sheet supplied by the court. Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart’s decision to let the jurors go early, at 3 p.m., could also be interpreted as a sign he believes they have made at least acceptable progress in their deliberations of the 200-plus charges against Gosnell, the West Philadelphia abortion doctor who faces four first degree homicide charges in the deaths of four late-term babies, and a third degree homicide charge in the death of patient Karnamaya Mongar by an overdose of Demerol. Jurors will continue deliberating Monday at 8:30 a.m.

This Is What a Kermit Gosnell Protest Looks Like

As the jury deliberates on the Kermit Gosnell trial right now, the scene outside Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center is pretty tame, protester-wise. On Monday, however, a large group of pro-life demonstrators showed up, anchored by a roving group of students with a video camera. TFP Student Action–a branch of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property–captured some of the pro-life fervor over Gosnell that has existed mostly on the internet thus far.

 

Weekly Standard Tries to Connect Kermit Gosnell and Allyson Schwartz

Exhibit A that conservatives will try to use Allyson Schwartz’s past against her during her gubernatorial run. Today’s headline in the Weekly Standard: “Did Pennsylvania Democrat Allyson Schwartz Send Women to Gosnell’s House of Horrors?” (From ’75-’88, Schwartz was director a reproductive rights clinic in Philadelphia affiliated with Planned Parenthood.) The Standard‘s answer? We have absolutely no idea, but we thought we’d go ahead and assume the worst.

A Planned Parenthood official denies that Blackwell ever referred mothers seeking abortions to take the 10-minute drive across town to Gosnell’s clinic, though she did not explain how she knew this. “We have never referred to Gosnell,” said the official in an email to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Could she confirm that going all the way back to 1972, the year Gosnell first opened his clinic? The official did not immediately respond.

The race is on, folks. [Weekly Standard]

Gosnell Attorney Tells Jury “House of Horrors” Is Exaggeration

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.

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