Crime

Philly abortion doctor finds lawyer in murder case

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Philadelphia abortion doctor charged with killing a patient and seven babies born alive was denied a preliminary hearing because a grand jury authorized the murder, conspiracy and other charges against him and his employees.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell appeared in court Wednesday, his 70th birthday, along with his wife Pearl and eight employees. The grand jury found the group operated a filthy, illegal abortion clinic that left two women dead and routinely killed late-term babies with scissors after they were born alive.

Gosnell has secured a prominent Philadelphia criminal lawyer, Jack McMahon, days after a judge denied him a public defender after learning he and his wife own at least six properties between them, including a beach house near Atlantic City, N.J.

According to prosecutors, Gosnell made millions over the years from a West Philadelphia medical practice they called a pill mill by day and an abortion mill at night.

He and his employees - including Gosnell's cosmetologist wife and two unlicensed workers - performed illegal, later-term abortion at the filthy clinic, where a teenager sometimes gave anesthesia and untrained workers provided post-surgical care, prosecutors charged.

"It's totally not fair for him to be tried, convicted by everybody in this city, the paper, the radio, the TV, when he hasn't had a single hearing on this," McMahon said after the hearing.

McMahon argued strenuously for a preliminary hearing, saying that the expense and inconvenience of bringing in out-of-state witnesses for a preliminary hearing was outweighed by his need to fully defend the potential death penalty case.

However, Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes said the hearing would reveal far less than the nearly 300-page grand jury report, and reams of additional discovery from dozens of witnesses that will soon be turned over.

Gosnell remains in prison without bail, while his 50-year-old wife Pearl, charged like the others with helping run a corrupt organization and other counts, is jailed on $2 million bail.

Her lawyer, Mary Maran, said Pearl Gosnell played only a "minimal" role in the activities described in the grand jury report. Asked about allegations her client went to the closed clinic on Sundays to perform illegal, late-term abortions, Maran said the charge stems from an account from one unnamed accuser.

Pennsylvania regulators long ignored complaints of barbaric conditions at Gosnell's clinic, which catered to poor, immigrant and minority women in the city's impoverished West Philadelphia section, the grand jury found.

At least two women died from the procedures, while scores more suffered perforated bowels, cervixes and uteruses, authorities said.

Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said the judge's ruling Wednesday validates the harrowing work of the grand jury, which reviewed evidence for eight months after U.S. drug agents who raided the clinic early last year found fetal remains stored in jars or in refrigerators amid staff lunches, along with other unsanitary conditions. The clinic, which took in $10,000 to $15,000 a day, has been shut down since then.

Under Pennsylvania law, abortions are illegal after 24 weeks of pregnancy, or just under six months, and most doctors won't perform them after 20 weeks because of the risks, prosecutors said.

One of the murder charges against Gosnell involves a woman seeking an abortion, Karnamaya Mongar, who authorities said died in 2009 because she was given too much of the painkiller Demerol and other drugs.

Gosnell wasn't at the clinic at the time. His staff administered the drugs repeatedly as they waited for him to arrive at night, as was his custom, the grand jury found.

The defendants are next due in court for arraignment on March 2.

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Tags:
abortion, homicide, philadelphia, west philadelphia, pennsylvania, dr. kermit gosnell, crime
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