The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 15, 2013

Pennsylvania abortion doctor gets third life sentence


From The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia abortion doctor was sentenced Wednesday to a third life term for killing an aborted baby he described as so big it could “walk to the bus.”

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, was convicted this week of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive who then had their necks snipped with scissors. He was given two life sentences Tuesday in a deal that spared him a potential death sentence, and the third sentence was handed down Wednesday for the baby known as Baby A.

That boy’s teen mother had been nearly 30 weeks pregnant, prosecution witnesses estimated after studying cellphone photos taken by astonished staffers.

“That baby will live with me forever. And when they found him guilty of Baby A, it just brought such joy to me,” said Joanne Pescatore, a prosecutor who worked on the case for three years.  

Gosnell received another 2  1/2 to five years in prison for the 2009 overdose death of a patient, who died after firefighters spent more an hour trying to get the comatose woman’s stretcher through the byzantine clinic and out a padlocked side door. He is not eligible for parole, and will die in prison.

The case has made Gosnell a flashpoint in the nation’s bitter debate over legalized abortion.

Prosecutors argued that Gosnell savagely killed late-term babies born alive by severing their spines, and taught several staff members the technique. Nine former clinic workers were convicted in the case, and four others pleaded guilty to murder.

Despite the notoriety of the case, Gosnell has seemed oddly serene in court during the two-month trial, and apparently sees himself as a medical pioneer and tireless advocate for inner-city patients.

But jurors agreed with prosecutors that he came to be fueled by greed, even if he started out with good intentions.

“He is an abortion doctor who tried to help people who may not have had money,” said juror Sarah Glinski, 23, a public affairs specialist with the Department of Defense. “Somewhere, something went wrong that made him do these things.”

Said juror Joseph Carroll, 46, a water department worker: “Most of us felt it probably came down to a greed factor.”

Prosecutors say Gosnell grew increasingly reckless as he accumulated millions of dollars from his rogue clinic, which was described as a “pill mill” for addicts by day and an “abortion mill” by night.

The jury spent 10 days deliberating before finding that Gosnell had killed babies or had them killed by untrained, unlicensed staff members. And the jury found him complicit in the death of the 41-year-old patient, a Virginia woman who was repeatedly sedated by his untrained medical assistants.

Gosnell was acquitted in the deaths of four other infants after the judge or jury found the evidence lacking.

But he was also convicted of hundreds of abortion law violations for performing illegal, third-term abortions or failing to counsel women and teens. Defense lawyer Jack McMahon did not quibble with the late-abortion charges but said Gosnell simply tried to accommodate desperate women and teens who begged for help.

“Did he maybe bend the rules on 24 weeks? Definitely, that’s true. ... (But) he never intended to kill a live baby. That’s why he gave them Digoxen,” McMahon said, referring to the abortion drug designed to stop the fetal heartbeat in utero.

Clinic employees testified, though, that Gosnell often missed the target with the injection, and taught them to “snip” babies after they were born whether they were moving or not.

Prosecutors had planned to seek the death penalty because Gosnell killed more than one person and his victims were especially vulnerable given their age. But Gosnell’s own advanced age had made it unlikely he would ever be executed before his appeals ran out.

The jurors said they were deadlocked Monday on the evidence on one baby, unsure whether the movements observed proved it was born alive. Gosnell was ultimately convicted of that count.

Jurors said they were relieved they did not have to weigh the death penalty. They were disappointed not to hear from Gosnell during the trial but said it did not influence their decision.

“He just sat there for the past eight weeks, smirking,” said jury foreman David Misko, 27. “He gave me nothing.”

McMahon said his client accepts the verdict and isn’t sorry he went to trial. He said Gosnell gave up a somewhat better deal early on but wanted to air the issues in court and is satisfied that he did so.

“He wanted this case aired out in a courtroom and it got aired out in a courtroom in a fair way. And now he’s accepting what will happen. He’s an intelligent guy,” said McMahon, who said Gosnell would now plead to federal drug charges that are pending.

The sentencing deal, reached after hours of terse negotiations Tuesday, spares Gosnell’s family the task of pleading for his life in court, McMahon said. Gosnell has six children, the youngest of them a teenager born to his third wife, who has also pleaded guilty in the case.

“He’s a proud man. To bring his young family into court was something he did not want to do,” McMahon said.

A 2011 grand jury investigation into Gosnell’s alleged prescription drug trafficking led to the gruesome findings about his abortion clinic. During an FBI raid, authorities found 47 aborted fetuses stored in clinic freezers, jars of tiny severed feet, bloodstained furniture and dirty medical instruments, along with cats roaming the premises.