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Philadelphia Abortion Dr. Kermit Gosnell Guilty of First-Degree Murder

May 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor who performed late-term abortions, has been found guilty on three counts of first-degree murder and one for involuntary manslaughter. At his sentencing, Gosnell could receive the death penalty. Ray Suarez talks with Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The Philadelphia doctor who performed late-term abortions was found guilty on murder charges today. His case and the six-week trial prompted strong reaction on both sides of the abortion debate.

Ray Suarez has more on the verdict.

RAY SUAREZ: After 10 days of deliberations, the jury convicted Dr. Kermit Gosnell on three counts of first-degree murder. Prosecutors said Gosnell delivered fetuses that were alive, and then snipped their spines with scissors at his West Philadelphia office. One fetus was said to be nearly 30 weeks along.

Gosnell, seen here after the verdict, also was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the overdose death of a patient. The jury acquitted him of a fourth count of murder. And the judge threw out three other murder charges after the prosecution rested its case. Gosnell could face the death penalty.

Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press covered the trial. She joins us now.

Was the jury out for a long time, Maryclaire?

MARYCLAIRE DALE, Associated Press: The jury was out for 10 days, which given the nature of the charges and the number of charges alone, wasn’t really that long. Some people thought it was.

But when you think about it, there were five murder charges sent to the jury. And it wasn’t like there was one gunman with five — who killed five people right away. They were five distinct sets of facts in each of the deaths. And then there were more than 200 abortion law violations, as well as racketeering and other charges. So the jury worked long and hard.

But their verdict today shows that they looked at each count specifically. They threw out a few of the abortion law violations and really worked hard and did throw out one of the murder charges, as well as coming back with involuntary manslaughter in the overdose death.

So they clearly looked at the facts of each case separately and did not just come up with a generalized, one way up or down on the verdict.

RAY SUAREZ: After the judge threw out the charges in deaths of other babies, he was finally charged with causing the deaths of people called for the purposes of this trial babies A, C, D and E. Were the circumstances similar in all those cases?

MARYCLAIRE DALE: Not exactly.

All four babies were allegedly snipped with scissors after they were born alive. But the jury came back and said that — but the evidence in each case was different. Gosnell was only said to have performed two of those deaths. And other staff members have already pleaded guilty and admitted that they killed two of the other babies.

The jury again acquitted Gosnell of one of the counts. It was a baby that a staff member said they heard whine from a room, but didn’t — and then they saw Gosnell go into the room. But nobody testified to being an eyewitness to seeing the doctor allegedly cut that baby. So, again, the jury did acquit on that case, while coming back with verdicts of first-degree guilt in the other three deaths, where again either staffers or — that were instructed by Gosnell or Gosnell were seen to have cut the babies.

RAY SUAREZ: Women who sought these late-term abortions submitted themselves to Dr. Gosnell for this care. Were they in any legal jeopardy themselves, in violation of Pennsylvania’s law? And did they testify against Dr. Gosnell?

MARYCLAIRE DALE: Two did testify, one of whom was then a 15-year-old — I’m sorry — a 17-year-old girl. No, they were not in any legal jeopardy.

They were — I don’t know if they were given immunity, but I believe possibly the statute would have run anyway. So there were — we only heard from two abortion patients. Again, one was the 17-year-old who ended up getting an infection. She was the one who — her baby was estimated to be perhaps 30 weeks old.

Staffers were so surprised at the size that they took cell phone pictures afterward. And that, once the FBI recovered the pictures, became some of the prime evidence and most disturbing evidence in the case. That woman testified that she ended up with sepsis afterward and was hospitalized for two weeks.

So, that sort of went to the idea that not only did Gosnell perform late-term abortions and kill babies afterward, but that he did not provide very good care of the women themselves.

RAY SUAREZ: Dr. Gosnell didn’t take the stand in his own defense, but he has spoken of over time his motivations and his actions at the clinic. How did he explain what he did?

MARYCLAIRE DALE: He sees himself as something of a medical pioneer and also an advocate for inner-city women who lack medical care or can’t access it.

He has been providing medical services and abortions in the inner city for 30 or 40 years, until his clinic was shut down in 2010. Again, he sees these women as desperate and believes that they are — that he is perhaps helping them get on with their lives and that they’re in difficult situations.

He says that he thought some — he has said that he thought some of them were the victims of abuse or neglect and that he therefore kept DNA samples of the fetuses in case there were court cases over the pregnancies. Disturbingly, how he kept that DNA evidence was by severing the feet of some of the fetuses. And so that was quite a disturbing feature of the trial.

But we expect that we well might hear from him as he prepares next week to fight to avoid the death penalty in the case.

RAY SUAREZ: Both supporters and opponents of continued legal abortion in the United States had reactions. Quickly, what are they saying in the hours since the verdict?

MARYCLAIRE DALE: Well, it might be one of the few points on which both sides agree.

They — most of the groups I have heard from are, of course, endorsing the verdict. People who are believers in legalized abortions say that the case really demonstrates the need for more access to legal, safe abortions, just the kind that Gosnell wasn’t providing, while people who are opposed to legal abortions say that the case and the very graphic nature of the evidence show that these babies suffer whether the abortions are done in utero or whether they are killed after the fact, after they’re born.

They believe that the case clearly shows that these babies are alive, you know, feel pain, and are most often viable, at least after 25 weeks or so.

RAY SUAREZ: Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press, thanks for joining us.

MARYCLAIRE DALE: Thank you very much.