PHILADELPHIA – A jury weighing murder and racketeering charges against a Philadelphia abortion provider dug in Friday to work on the capital murder counts, but reached no verdict in the aging doctor’s death-penalty case.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, ran a corner medical clinic in a run-down stretch of West Philadelphia for 30 years. According to trial testimony, the clinic deteriorated over the years, and women increasingly went to Gosnell for abortions closer to – or perhaps beyond – the state’s 24-week limit.
The jury asked for help Friday distinguishing among the four babies Gosnell allegedly killed or had killed after they were born alive. Staff members at Gosnell’s clinic have testified that they saw each one move, breathe or whine outside the mother’s body.
The jury also asked for a list of drugs found during an FBI clinic raid in 2010. The agents did not find the abortion drug Digoxin – although Gosnell says he used it to stop the babies’ hearts in utero during late-term abortions.
The jury later asked about the legal definition of racketeering, one of more than 250 counts lodged against Gosnell and a codefendant. The deliberations began Tuesday afternoon and are scheduled to resume Monday.
Former clinic workers have testified that Gosnell tried to end second-trimester pregnancies after a 2007 ban on partial-birth abortions by injecting Digoxen through the mother’s abdomen to stop the fetal heart. But it was a “hard target” to hit the heart, especially with Gosnell’s outdated ultrasound equipment, they said. So the babies often came out alive before Gosnell or others “snipped” them with scissors in the back of the neck, to sever the spine, the witnesses said.
By then, some had shown signs of life, either breathing or moving or letting out a low whine, they said.
Gosnell sometimes did 20 to 25 abortions a night, but women spent the day at the clinic enduring labor and sometimes delivery, given his unorthodox technique. If they delivered before Gosnell arrived, unlicensed doctor Stephen Massof or untrained medical assistants had to “snip” the babies and monitor the highly sedated patients, the employees said.
The chaotic conditions allegedly contributed to the 2009 overdose death of Karnamaya Mongar, 41, of Woodbridge, Va. A mother of three, she had recently come to the U.S. after 20 years in a refugee camp. Gosnell is charged with third-degree murder in her death.
Massof said he felt like “a firemen in hell,” given the high patient load.
“It would rain fetuses,” Massof testified last month. He has pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree murder in the infant deaths, but said he did many more. Three other workers have also pleaded guilty to murder.
Authorities called the clinic a “pill mill” for addicts by day and an all-cash “abortion mill” at night.
Gosnell is also charged with running a corrupt organization, along with conspiracy and about 250 abortion law violations, for allegedly performing third-term abortions or failing to counsel women 24 hours in advance.
Defense lawyer Jack McMahon insists there were no live births at the clinic, and says Gosnell performed a service, however unsavory, to desperate women and teens.
“This is a targeted, elitist and racist prosecution of a doctor who’s done nothing but give to the poor and the people of West Philadelphia,” McMahon said in closing arguments Monday.