Gosnell found guilty: Will he get death penalty?

Gosnell found guilty:  Dr. Kermit Gosnell was convicted Monday of three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies.

(AP Photo/Philadelphia Daily News, Yong Kim, File)
Dr. Kermit Gosnell was found guilty Monday, May 13, 2013 of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive but acquitted in the death of a fourth baby. Gosnell was also found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the overdose death of a patient.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell considered himself a pioneering inner-city doctor who helped desperate women get late-term abortions, but a Philadelphia jury called him a murderer who killed three babies who were born alive.

Gosnell, 72, was convicted Monday of three counts of first-degree murder but acquitted of murdering a fourth aborted baby. He was also found guilty of manslaughter, not third-degree murder, in a patient's 2009 overdose death.

The same jury is set to return next week to decide if Gosnell deserves the death penalty.

Prosecutors want to send Gosnell to death row because he killed more than one person, and his victims were especially vulnerable given their age. But Gosnell's advanced age makes it unlikely he could be executed before his appeals ran out. Prosecutors might offer a life sentence if he agrees not to appeal.

Defense lawyer Jack McMahon called such negotiations commonplace, but declined to discuss whether they were likely in this case.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, whose office began an investigation after the FBI stumbled upon the rogue abortion practices during a 2010 drug raid, declined comment until the sentencing phase concludes.

However, partisans on both sides of the nation's polarized abortion debate were quick to comment.

"This has helped more people realize what abortion is really about," said David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee. He said he hopes the case results in more states passing bills that prohibit abortion "once the unborn child can feel pain."

The gruesome details came out more than two years ago during the investigation of prescription drug trafficking at Gosnell's clinic. Investigators said it was a foul-smelling "house of horrors" with bags and bottles of fetuses, including jars of severed feet, bloodstained furniture, dirty medical instruments, and cats roaming the premises.

Supporters of legalized abortion said the case showed what poor, desperate young women could face if abortion is driven underground by more restrictive laws.

"Kermit Gosnell has been found guilty and will get what he deserves. Now, let's make sure these women are vindicated by delivering what all women deserve: access to the full range of health services including safe, high-quality and legal abortion care," said Ilyse G. Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Gosnell did not testify, and called no witnesses in his defense. But McMahon branded prosecutors "elitist" and "racist" for pursuing his client, who is black and whose patients were mostly poor minorities.

"I wanted to be an effective, positive force in the minority community," Gosnell told The Philadelphia Daily News in a 2010 interview. "I believe in the long term I will be vindicated."

Former clinic employees testified that Gosnell routinely performed illegal abortions past Pennsylvania's 24-week limit, that he delivered babies who were still moving, whimpering or breathing, and that he and his assistants dispatched the newborns by "snipping" their spines, as he referred to it.

Gosnell was also convicted of infanticide, racketeering and more than 200 counts of violating Pennsylvania's abortion laws by performing third-term abortions or failing to counsel women 24 hours in advance.

His co-defendant, former clinic employee Eileen O'Neill, was convicted of taking part in a corrupt organization and illegally billing for her services as if she were a licensed doctor.

Four former clinic employees pleaded guilty to murder and four more to other charges. They include Gosnell's wife, Pearl, a cosmetologist who helped perform abortions.

Pennsylvania authorities had failed to conduct routine inspections of all its abortion clinics for 15 years by the time Gosnell's facility was raided. In the scandal's aftermath, two top state health officials were fired, and Pennsylvania imposed tougher rules for clinics.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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