PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Philadelphia jury is expected to start weighing murder charges in the trial of a veteran abortion provider charged with killing four viable babies after they were born alive.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, performed thousands of abortions over a 30-year career. He maintains that he helped desperate women and teens who had no other access to medical care.
According to prosecutors, Gosnell routinely cut live babies in the back of the neck to sever their spines because he did not know how to do a proper abortion in utero.
Gosnell is also charged in the 2009 death of a woman patient who was given anesthesia and monitored by two troubled medical assistants and a teenager. By that point, state officials had not inspected Gosnell's clinic since the early 1990s, prosecutors said.
"When people (who are) supposed to regulate these folks don't do it right, that's what happens," Assistant District Attorney Ed Cameron told jurors in closing arguments Monday. "Back alley abortions. Coat hanger abortions. That's what happens."
The jury is to begin considering the charges against Gosnell on Tuesday.
Gosnell's clinic has been shuttered, and two top state health department officials fired, since the FBI raided the clinic one night in 2010 looking for prescription drug abuses. Instead, they found Gosnell's nocturnal clinic in full swing.
Defense lawyer Jack McMahon argued that prosecutors who blasted the clinic as a filthy, flea-infested "house of horrors" in a 2011 grand jury report sensationalized the case to make headlines.
"This isn't a perfect place by any stretch of the imagination — but it isn't what they say it is," McMahon argued.
Eight former workers have pleaded guilty to murder or other charges and have testified to seeing babies move, breathe or whine. Yet some said they did not consider the babies fully alive until they were charged after a 2011 grand jury investigation.
McMahon has seized on that point and argued again Monday that the occasional spasms the workers saw were not the wriggling movements of a newborn baby. He acknowledged that jurors have seen graphic, even grisly, photographs of aborted babies and bloody medical equipment.
"Abortion — as is any surgical procedure — isn't pretty," McMahon said. "It's bloody. It's real. But you have to transcend that."
And he refused to back down from aggressive opening remarks in which he called prosecutors "elitist" and "racist" for pursuing his client, who is black.
"We know why he was targeted," McMahon said.
Gosnell is charged with third-degree murder in the overdose death of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar, who came from Virginia for an abortion after she was turned away at three other clinics, starting when she was 15 weeks pregnant.
One assistant warned Gosnell midway through the abortion that Mongar had no pulse, but he nonetheless finished the procedure, witnesses said. It took more than an hour to get her out of the clinic and to a hospital, where the recent refugee, who spoke no English, was pronounced dead the next day.
Cameron called Gosnell's operation an assembly line for a stream of poor, mostly minority women and teens.
"Are you human?" Cameron asked Gosnell, "to med these women up and stick knives in the backs of babies?"
The doctor sat calmly at the defense table, as he has throughout the often graphic six-week trial.
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 has argued that O'Neill worked under Gosnell's supervision.
District Attorney Seth Williams, whose office filed the charges, attended the closing arguments and shook hands with Cameron and fellow trial prosecutor Joanne Pescatore afterward.
Gosnell is also charged with performing illegal third-term abortions, failing to counsel patients and observe the 24-hour waiting period, and racketeering. Gosnell did not testify at the trial but might take the stand if he is convicted and the trial moves to the penalty phase. He has painted himself in pre-indictment media interviews as an altruistic doctor who returned to serve his medically needy community.
"He provided those desperate young girls with relief. He gave them a solution to their problems," McMahon argued Monday.
But Cameron said whatever intentions he may have once had turned criminal as he focused more on getting rich than on his patients.
"He created an assembly line with no regard for these women whatsoever. And he made money doing that," Cameron said.