Coverage of the trial of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell

Defense Rests After One Day in Gosnell Murder Trial

Former "House of Horrors" abortion doctor's future is now in the hands of his peers

By Vince Lattanzio
|  Monday, Jul 8, 2013  |  Updated 3:55 PM EDT
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Inside the Courtroom: "House of Horrors" Trial

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The day former abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell’s defense attorney was set to begin presenting his case -- he rested. Gosnell's future now rests on a jury's shoulders.

Jack McMahon did not call one witness to the stand in defense of Gosnell Wednesday, before announcing "the defense rests."

A day earlier, McMahon successfully argued three of the first-degree murder charges his client faced should be tossed out.

In January 2011, Gosnell was was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of seven babies. Prosecutors alleged the former doctor delivered the babies alive and then killed them by snipping their spinal cords with scissors.

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Third-degree murder charges were also brought against the 72-year-old over the death of patient Karnamaya Mongar. Mongar, 41, died after being given a lethal dose of pain killers and anesthesia during a 2009 abortion procedure at Gosnell's West Philadelphia clinic, the Women's Medical Society.

On Tuesday, McMahon motioned that Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart acquit Gosnell on several murder charges because of a lack of scientific evidence. He argued the prosecution could not prove the babies were born alive even though several former employees testified witnessing babies move, make noise and breathe.

McMahon said Gosnell routinely administered drugs that would stop the fetuses' heart in utero and that any movement seen by the employees could be nothing more than involuntary spasms.

Philadelphia's chief medical examiner Dr. Sam Gulino testified he could not say for certain whether any of the 47 fetuses he examined were born alive.

Judge Minehart agreed with the assertion on three of the cases -- tossing three first-degree murder charges before they went to the jury. One charge of infanticide and five counts of abuse of a corpse were also acquitted.

Prosecutors Joanne Pescatore and Ed Cameron spent five weeks presenting its case against Gosnell. They called 36 witnesses to the stand, including former clinic employees who recounted graphic accounts of abortion procedures.

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Kareema Cross testified she saw babies breathe and move and one utter a "soft whine." Cross recounted how she watched a baby aborted into a toilet "swimming...trying to get out of the water."

The 28-year-old also claimed she watched Gosnell kill one fetus, referred to as Baby A. Cross said Baby A was placed into a plastic container and that the boy moved inside. His neck, she said, was snipped 20 minutes later.

Cross claimed Baby A was so large, Gosnell joked the boy was big enough to walk home.

Stephen Massof, who acted as an unlicensed doctor at the clinic, said "it would rain fetuses." Another employee, Sherry West, testified she was disturbed when a baby made a screeching noise during a procedure.

"It sounded like a little alien. It really freaked me out," West told the court.

Ashley Baldwin, a third employee who was 15-years-old when she worked for Gosnell, said she saw at least one baby's chest move during a procedure.

Prosecutors dubbed Gosnell's clinic a "House of Horrors" after a 2010 raid uncovered deplorable conditions inside. Aborted fetuses in household containers and plastic bags were found inside a freezer. Dirty, old equipment and blood-stained exam tables filled rooms at the practice at 3801 Lancaster Avenue. Staffers were found to be untrained and unlicensed.

Over the course of the six-week trial, jurors were shown graphic images of aborted babies and equipment from the clinic was brought into the third-floor Philadelphia courtroom.

While McMahon's choice not to bring forth any witnesses may surprise some,  Philadelphia jury consultant Melissa Gomez says she has seen this strategy before.

“I have seen this happen before in criminal trials in which the defense decides that it has done enough in the prosecution’s case through cross examinations to cause a reasonable doubt and either does not need or decides it is not worth the risk to call its own witnesses considering that the prosecution would also be able to cross examine,” Gomez said.

Although she has not been following the day-to-day events of the trial, Gomez said, “Considering he got three charges dismissed, it sounds like he did do a decent job poking some holes in the prosecution’s case, so maybe he was right to let the evidence be and just close.”

Gosnell still faces four counts of first-degree murder over the babies deaths and third-degree murder in Mongar's death. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

The jury is expected to be charged on Tuesday.

 


Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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