The murder trial of a West Philadelphia abortion doctor, who is accused in deaths of seven newborn babies and a patient, is set to begin on Monday.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, is charged with third-degree murder in a woman's 2009 death during a botched abortion. He also faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of seven babies whose spinal cords were severed with scissors after they were born alive, according to District Attorney Seth Williams. The alleged murders happened at the Women's Medical Society clinic at 3801 Lancaster Ave. Authorities called the clinic a “house of horrors".
On Wednesday, lawyers picked a jury and five alternates. Three of the jurors chosen said they support abortion rights and could judge the case fairly. Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart was quick to dismiss scores of potential jurors who said their religious or moral beliefs might color their view of the case.
Gosnell has pleaded not guilty, and insists that he helped many vulnerable women and teens get medical care, including later-stage abortions.
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.
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
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 ‘70s, 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 others without regard for their ability to pay, Gosnell has said.
"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.
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.
The trial could last six to eight weeks.