Jury: Philadelphia doctor murdered babies
A Philadelphia abortion provider who killed babies by cutting their spinal cords with scissors was found guilty of first-degree murder on Monday.
The conviction on three counts of first-degree murder means Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, could be sentenced to death.
Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore sobbed after the verdict in the high-profile case was announced. Gosnell appeared shocked. He let out a sigh and shook his head back and forth.
Defense attorney Jack McMahon told CNN it's too soon to tell whether he will appeal the conviction.
"We were disappointed. We put on a vigorous defense. We think it went well for us in the courtroom," he said. "But the jury spoke, and we respect the jury's verdict."
Gosnell also was accused in the death of Karnamaya Mongar, 41, who died of an anesthetic overdose during a second-trimester abortion at his West Philadelphia clinic. In that case, the jury found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Gosnell, who is not a board-certified obstetrician or gynecologist, was also found guilty of 21 counts of abortion of the unborn, 24 weeks or older.
In Pennsylvania, abortions past 24 weeks are illegal unless the health of the mother is at stake.
The case next moves to the penalty phase, when jurors will weigh whether to give Gosnell a death sentence. It's possible the doctor will testify, said William Brennan, an attorney who represented Gosnell earlier in the case.
"I would think there would be a lot of mitigation in this case and I think probably, and this is a guess, but probably at that time the jury would hear from Dr. Gosnell," he said.
Earlier Monday, the jury, after deliberating for two weeks, said it was hung on two counts, and the judge instructed them to continue trying to reach a verdict on them.
Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart also told jurors that their progress showed they were "considering the evidence seriously."
Gosnell's co-defendant, Eileen O'Neill, 56, was found guilty of conspiracy to operate a corrupt organization and two counts of theft by deception for operating without a license to practice medicine. O'Neill, a medical school graduate, was not charged with performing illegal abortions.
Both pleaded not guilty.
Eight people involved in Gosnell's clinic, called the Women's Medical Society, have pleaded guilty to various charges, including four to murder.
The grand jury report from 2011 says the "people who ran this sham medical practice included no doctors other than Gosnell himself, and not even a single nurse," yet they still made diagnoses, performed procedures and administered drugs.
McMahon, in an impassioned, 2½-hour closing argument, said that none of the infants was killed; rather, he said, they were already dead as a result of Gosnell administering the drug Digoxin, which can cause abortion.
Gosnell also was accused of reusing unsanitary instruments; performing procedures in filthy rooms, including some in which litter boxes and animals allegedly were present at the time; and allowing unlicensed employees -- including a teenage high school student -- to perform operations and administer anesthesia.
The remains of aborted fetuses were stored in water jugs, pet food containers and a freezer at the clinic, the city's chief medical examiner Sam Gulino testified.
Former employee Kareema Cross said Gosnell regularly performed illegal late-term abortions that he routinely recorded as "24.5 weeks."
McMahon, who called no witnesses, accused prosecutors of "the most extraordinary hype and exaggeration in the history of the criminal justice system," even adding that they are "elitist" and "racist."
Gosnell has been accused by authorities of preying on low-income, minority women. McMahon argued that Gosnell offered access to health care for people who were poor and without health insurance.
During his closing remarks, Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron turned to Gosnell and yelled, "Are you human?"
Gosnell smirked at Cameron without speaking. Cameron then continued, declaring, "It's time for us to extinguish the fire he created."
The doctor was first charged in January 2011.
The case has drawn national attention and sharp criticism from anti-abortion activists.
But that doesn't mean it sets a precedent, CNN legal analyst Paul Callan said.
"The testimony in this case was so graphic and so horrific. It was described literally as a house of horrors taking place in this Philadelphia clinic," Callan said. "So I think that most objective observers will say that ultimately this will be an isolated case, hopefully, and that it's simply a case where prosecutors had to act. It had nothing to do with being pro- or anti-abortion."
After Monday's verdict, the leader of one anti-abortion group said justice had been served.
"Even as we celebrate this verdict, we honor and mourn as well those among our nation's weakest children who did not receive 'their day in court' -- and we must remember that Gosnell is not an outlier within the abortion industry," Lila Rose, president of Live Action, said in a written statement. "We cannot allow these 'guilty' verdicts, welcome as they are, to make us complacent when it comes to the continuing abuses happening even now in abortion facilities throughout our nation."
More restrictions on abortions will lead to more cases like the Women's Medical Society, not fewer, abortion rights advocates argue.
"We thought we had said goodbye to back-alley abortionists," said Jessica Arons, head of the Women's Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress.
"Legal access to abortion helps counteract "predators" who "prey on vulnerable women," Arons said.
"It's not that we need more laws or stricter laws," she said. "Pennsylvania just didn't do its job in enforcing the laws against him earlier."
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