How deal was struck for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell to serve life sentence

A jury on Monday found Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies. He's waived his right to appeal the verdict, and prosecutors are dropping the death penalty.

Matt Rourke/AP
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center, Tuesday, in Philadelphia. Gosnell, an abortion doctor convicted of killing three babies who were born alive in his grimy clinic agreed Tuesday to give up his right to an appeal and faces life in prison but will be spared a death sentence.

The Philadelphia abortion doctor convicted of first-degree murder has waived his right to appeal the verdict in exchange for prosecutors agreeing to drop the death penalty, the district attorney announced Tuesday.

On Monday, a jury found Kermit Gosnell guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies and also involuntary manslaughter in the overdose death of a woman seeking an abortion. At his west Philadelphia clinic, prosecutors say, he performed illegal, late-term abortions under unsanitary conditions.

Dr. Gosnell “agreed to waive all of his appellate rights in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of the death penalty,” Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams said in a statement Tuesday. Gosnell was formally sentenced for the deaths of two babies, and on Wednesday morning he appeared in court to be sentenced for the third baby’s death as well as remaining charges, including more than 200 counts of violating Pennsylvania’s abortion law.

Gosnell did not make remarks in court when the agreement was struck Tuesday, other than to assure Judge Jeffrey Minehart that he made the deal fairly and was “very satisfied” with his legal representation.

"Like any deal, there's a give-and-take on each side," said Jack McMahon, Gosnell’s defense attorney.

"A big factor for Dr. Gosnell was his family. They've been conspicuously absent, and that's been intentional because of the media focus and whatnot. He has some younger children in high school ... and bringing them all forward for a penalty phase is something that troubled him,” Mr. McMahon told NBC10 in Philadelphia

Prosecutors sought the death penalty because of the gruesome nature of the deaths. Clinic employees testified that Gosnell delivered babies alive during abortion procedures and then took steps to kill them.

McMahon said his client accepts the verdict and isn't sorry he went to trial, even though he was offered a better plea deal early on in the proceedings.

"He wanted this case aired out in a courtroom, and it got aired out in a courtroom in a fair way. And now he's accepting what will happen," McMahon said outside the courtroom Tuesday. He added that Gosnell would plead to pending federal drug charges.

The process would have taken years longer, if Gosnell were to appeal the verdicts and death penalty, legal experts say.

"From a pragmatic perspective, it can take decades for a defendant to exhaust all of his appeals from a sentence of death," O. Carter Snead, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, told CNN. "Given his advanced age, it is likely that Gosnell would die on death row before this process runs its course." 

Court officials have also set a sentencing hearing for Gosnell’s former employees, including his wife, Pearl Gosnell, NBC10 in Philadelphia reported.

Mrs. Gosnell pleaded guilty to criminal conspiracy and performing illegal abortions in December 2011. Four other co-workers pleaded guilty to third-degree murder for their roles in killing babies born alive during late term abortions and in the 2009 overdose death of an abortion patient.

Sentencing for those convictions was put on hold during Gosnell’s trial, but the hearing is now set for May 29.

• Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.