PHILADELPHIA — A lawyer defending a Philadelphia abortion provider on murder charges accused officials of an “elitist and racist prosecution,” as the death-penalty trial opened Monday.
Lawyer Jack McMahon also accused city officials of “a prosecutorial lynching” of his client, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who is black.
Gosnell, 72, is accused of running a rogue clinic that ignored the state ban on third-term abortions and 24-hour waiting periods. Prosecutors say he also maimed desperate, often poor women and teenagers by letting his untrained staff perform abortions and give anesthesia. And they say he got rich doing it, by performing a high volume of substandard abortions.
Police found $250,000 in cash during a 2010 search of his home, Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said. Gosnell used outmoded drugs and unorthodox methods, forcing women to endure labor and then deliver live babies that were then killed by staff with scissors, she said. Normally, the fetus is killed in utero.
“The standard practice here was to slay babies. That’s what they did,” said Pescatore, who echoed a 2011 grand jury report in calling the clinic “a house of horrors.”
Staff went along with the routine because they were nearly as desperate as the patients, she said. The two other “doctors” on staff were allegedly medical school doctors without licenses. The employee giving anesthesia was a sixth-grade dropout, while a 15-year-old high school student helped in the surgical and recovery rooms, she said.
McMahon countered that prosecutors are applying “Mayo Clinic” standards to Gosnell’s inner-city office in West Philadelphia. Gosnell, he said, performed as many as 1,000 abortions in a year, and at least 16,000 over his long career – with a lower-than-average complication rate, he said.
“This is a targeted, elitist and racist prosecution of a doctor who’s done nothing but give (back) to the poor and the people of West Philadelphia,” McMahon insisted to the predominantly black jury, as Gosnell sat taking notes. “It’s a prosecutorial lynching of Dr. Kermit Gosnell.”
Gosnell is charged with killing seven babies born alive, along with Karnamaya Mongar, a newly arrived, 41-year-old refugee from Bhutan. Prosecutors say Gosnell’s staff gave the 90-pound woman a lethal dose of anesthesia and painkillers during a 2009 abortion.
But McMahon said he will prove that she also had other drugs in her system, perhaps from an attempt to self-abort the fetus using a tuberculosis drug. She also had bronchial problems that she did not report and died of unfortunate complications, he said.
As for the infant deaths, McMahon vowed to prove that none were born alive. No physical evidence exists in five of the deaths; the murder charges are instead based on staff testimony that the babies moved or cried. Authorities have a photograph of the sixth baby and the body of the seventh. But McMahon argued that neither took a breath.