The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 29, 2013

Lawyer: Pa. abortion clinic no 'house of horrors'

MARYCLAIRE DALE, Associated Press
Star Beacon

PHILADELPHIA —

 The description of a shuttered abortion clinic as a "house of horrors" is a "political press fabrication," a lawyer for a doctor charged with killing four babies allegedly born alive there said Monday.

Authorities say Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, ran a clinic where desperate women sought late-term abortions they could not get elsewhere. And he got rich doing so, prosecutors said, making millions of dollars over a 30-year career.

Gosnell is charged with killing four babies allegedly born alive and in the overdose death of a 41-year-old patient.

During closing arguments Monday, defense attorney Jack McMahon showed photographs of a relatively neat waiting room and other areas in Gosnell's clinic, saying that pictures don't lie.

He said the clinic wasn't perfect but it wasn't the criminal enterprise that prosecutors claim. The district attorney has called it a "house of horrors."

McMahon said he's not backing down from his opening remarks that the case is an elitist and racist prosecution against Gosnell, who is black.

Prosecutors say Gosnell killed viable babies born alive after putting a steady stream of often low-income, minority women through labor and delivery. Former employees have testified that Gosnell taught them to "snip" babies' necks after they were delivered to "ensure fetal demise."

"Why would you cut a baby in the back of the neck unless you were killing them?" Assistant District Attorney Ed Cameron argued last week, as he asked a judge to send all seven first-degree murder charges to the jury.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart, though, threw out three of those counts for lack of evidence they were viable, born alive and then killed.

Gosnell is also charged in the overdose death of a patient, 41-year-old refugee Karnamaya Mongar, of Woodbridge, Va.

The jury must now weigh the five murder counts, along with lesser charges that include racketeering, performing illegal abortions after 24 weeks, failing to observe the 24-hour waiting period and endangering a child's welfare for employing a 15-year-old in the procedure area.

McMahon has argued that there were no live births at the clinic, and he found some support from a prosecution witness, Philadelphia's top medical examiner. Dr. Sam Gulino, who examined 47 aborted fetuses stored in freezers at the clinic, said he could not definitively say if any had taken a breath because the lung tissue had deteriorated.

The prosecution's other evidence to support the live birth argument comes from former employees, who testified that they saw aborted babies move, breathe or even cry. McMahon challenged them on cross-examination, questioning whether they had instead seen post-mortem spasms.

"You have to have definite, voluntary movement," McMahon argued.

The jury has seen a graphic photograph of some of the aborted babies and a worker testified that Gosnell joked that one was so big "it could walk to the bus."

Lynda Williams, Adrianne Moton and Sherry West, all untrained clinic workers, and unlicensed doctor Stephen Massof have each pleaded guilty to third-degree murder charges and testified against Gosnell. And four others have pleaded guilty to lesser charges, including Gosnell's wife, Pearl.

Gosnell did not testify, but could take the stand in the penalty phase if he is convicted of first-degree murder. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Prosecutors say Gosnell is a misogynist for the way he treated female patients while the inner-city doctor described himself as an altruist in a 2010 interview with the Philadelphia Daily News.

"I wanted to be an effective, positive force in the minority community," Gosnell said.

Also on trial is former clinic employee Eileen O'Neill, 56, of Phoenixville. She is charged with theft for allegedly practicing medicine without a license.

O'Neill's lawyer said in his closing arguments that prosecutors failed to prove their case against her.