PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jury selection began Monday in the murder trial of a Philadelphia abortion provider, a potentially sensitive task since the case involves both abortion and the death penalty.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell is charged with eight counts of murder. He's charged with third-degree murder in a woman's 2009 death during a botched abortion, and first-degree murder for allegedly killing seven viable babies after they were born alive. Gosnell faces the death penalty if convicted on the latter counts.
He has pleaded not guilty, and insists that he helped many vulnerable women and teens get medical care, including second-term abortions not offered at many clinics.
Pennsylvania abortion laws ban abortions after 24 weeks. Authorities believe at least some of the abortions performed at Gosnell's clinic involved third-trimester pregnancies. The 2011 grand jury report details one case in which Gosnell allegedly joked the baby was so big it could walk to the bus stop.
The nearly 300-page report described the clinic as filthy, blood-stained and macabre, with a collection of fetal body parts kept in jars.
In court Monday, Gosnell defied that crude image, appearing poised, elegantly dressed and oddly relaxed. He warmly greeted a local TV reporter by name, as he has done in the past.
Gosnell, the only child of a gas station operator and government clerk, had been a top student at the city's prestigious Central High School. He became an early proponent of abortion rights in the 1960s and 1970s, and returned from a stint in New York City to open up a clinic in the impoverished Mantua neighborhood, near the working-class black neighborhood where he grew up.
His Women's Medical Center treated the poor, immigrants, teens and women with later-stage pregnancies who could not get abortions elsewhere.
"I feel in the long term I will be vindicated," Gosnell told the Philadelphia Daily News in a March 2010 interview.
Gosnell's third wife, Pearl, who has pleaded guilty to performing illegal abortions, and his adult children were not in court, although they had been last week when Gosnell apparently rejected efforts to negotiate a plea offer. A gag order prevents lawyers in the case from commenting, but Gosnell's lawyer was seen dashing between prosecutors and his client, who had been brought to court from jail.
Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart expects the trial to last six to eight weeks. Opening statements are set for March 14.
Dozens of jurors were summarily dismissed Monday when they said they could not return a death verdict. Others said the long trial would be an extreme hardship, and were excused.
And one woman said she had already concluded that Gosnell was guilty, given media coverage of the case.
Former clinic employee Eileen O'Neill is also on trial, charged with practicing medicine without a license. Eight others have pleaded guilty to murder or lesser charges. Some are expected to testify against their former boss.