Philadelphia abortion doctor case goes to jury
BY JOSEPH A. SLOBODZIAN, The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA -- After eight weeks of being ordered not to discuss the case with family or friends or among themselves, a Philadelphia jury today will begin considering the fate of West Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.
After a long day Monday listening to more than six hours of often-fiery, exhaustively argued closing speeches by defense and prosecution lawyers, the Common Pleas Court jury will meet this morning for legal instruction from Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart, and then start deliberations.
Those deliberations could be long.
Before the seven women and five men can return to the courtroom with their decision, they will have to parse their way through a verdict sheet reportedly more than 30 pages long, asking for their decisions on four counts of first-degree murder, one count of third-degree murder, 24 counts of performing abortions past Pennsylvania's 24-week gestational age, 227 counts of performing abortions without giving the mandated 24-hour waiting period, and other counts involving racketeering and operating a corrupt organization.
And those are just the charges involving Gosnell, 72, owner and operator of the Women's Medical Society clinic.
The jury also will have to weigh counts of theft by deception and participating in a corrupt organization against Eileen O'Neill, 56, an unlicensed doctor who worked in the family practice section of Gosnell's clinic.
For O'Neill, of Phoenixville, a guilty verdict would likely mean prison and the end of any chance of a future in medicine for a woman described as an intelligent and skilled doctor but one who let a Louisiana medical license lapse in 2000 and never got another.
For Gosnell, a fixture of community medicine in West Philadelphia for more than 30 years, the stakes are life and death -- his.
If the jury finds Gosnell guilty of any of the first-degree murder counts -- babies said to have been born alive during illegal late-term abortions and killed when Gosnell "snipped" their spines with scissors -- the jury would begin hearing evidence to decide whether Gosnell should be sentenced to death or life in prison without chance of parole.
In his closing argument to the jury, Gosnell attorney Jack McMahon accused prosecutors of "the most extraordinary hype and exaggeration in the history of the justice system."
Flashing through a series of photos of the interior of Gosnell's clinic, McMahon maintained that none showed the bloody, filthy "house of horrors" that prosecutors described in news conferences announcing the charges in 2011.
Both McMahon and James Berardinelli, O'Neill's lawyer, argued that their clients had been swept away in a tide of prejudicial news conferences by the district attorney's office, the "manipulation of witnesses," and a "rush to judgment" by the news media.
"You have a choice, a real choice … to roll with the tsunami of simplistic press and rhetoric, or the choice to stand against the power of that tsunami," McMahon told the jury.
Berardinelli told the jurors that they could "go through all 600 pages of criminal charges, and there is no crime called practicing without a license."
The charges against O'Neill -- theft by deception involving patient fees and insurance claims for services she was not qualified to provide, and participating in a corrupt organization -- were not supported by prosecution evidence during six weeks of testimony, Berardinelli said.
Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron spent almost three hours reviewing the testimony of 54 witnesses and numerous exhibits.
Cameron argued that both Gosnell and O'Neill had violated their oaths as doctors.
Referring to O'Neill, Cameron noted that she had complained to co-workers about the abortion practice and unsanitary clinic conditions and a burgeoning clinic business selling prescriptions for narcotics to street addicts.
"What kind of person works in a facility like this for eight to 10 years and does not say anything about it?" Cameron asked.
As for Gosnell, Cameron asked how any doctor could kill babies born alive during abortions -- acts witnessed and testified to by clinic workers who cooperated with the prosecution in guilty-plea deals.
Cameron's voice cracked when he described for the jury how he recently had to have his family dog put down. Cameron said the veterinarian first put the dog to sleep and then injected the lethal drug.
"My dog was treated better than he treated these babies and women, and that's because he didn't care," Cameron said.