Kermit Gosnell could face the death penalty in abortion-clinic case

Kermit Gosnell faces murder and other charges.
Kermit Gosnell faces murder and other charges.
Posted: March 02, 2011

He is in prison without bail, his wife held in lieu of $1 million bail, their 13-year-old daughter cared for by neighbors, and their assets frozen.

Now, accused abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell could face the death penalty.

Philadelphia prosecutors confirmed Tuesday they would file the legal notice needed to seek execution by lethal injection if a jury finds Gosnell, 70, guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of seven infants born alive and viable but allegedly killed by him.

Filing the court notice does not lock the District Attorney's Office into pursuing death in Gosnell's case, said Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for District Attorney Seth Williams.

But Wednesday is the deadline for prosecutors to officially preserve their right to seek to death penalty. Assistant District Attorneys Joanne Pescatore and Christine Wechsler could not be reached for comment.

Gosnell's lawyer, Jack McMahon, called it odd that the District Attorney's Office described the notice as prosecutors "considering the death penalty."

"You either are or you aren't," McMahon said. "What do I do? Say I'm considering preparing a defense?"

Gosnell, who ran his own abortion clinic, Women's Medical Society, at 3801 Lancaster Ave. in West Philadelphia, is also charged with a count of third-degree murder in the 2009 death of a patient administered too much anesthesia by unqualified clinic staff.

Lawyers for Gosnell, his wife Pearl, 50, and eight former clinic workers charged with them, are to be in Common Pleas Court Wednesday for formal arraignment on the charges. It is at that hearing - normally a pro forma exchange of documents and other evidence - that the death penalty notice is expected to be made.

The capital punishment issue became public the same day it was learned another Philadelphia judge had frozen the Gosnells' assets.

Friday's order by Common Pleas Court Judge Paul P. Panepinto was requested by Center City lawyer Bernard W. Smalley. Smalley filed suit in January on behalf of Yashoda Devi Gurung, daughter and administrator of the estate of Karnamaya Mongar, 41, the Virginia woman who died in 2009 undergoing an abortion at Gosnell's clinic.

Panepinto set a March 9 hearing on the order and told Gosnell's representatives to file a complete assets list.

Though Gosnell and his wife initially asked to be represented by public defenders, claiming they were destitute, prosecutors said they discovered more than a dozen properties, including a $900,000 Jersey Shore house, in their names.

Smalley said he had no evidence the Gosnells had tried to sell or hide assets but thought the injunction was needed to protect the interests of Gurung and the Mongar family.

Smalley said he had found no sign that Gosnell had malpractice insurance.

McMahon, who also represents Gosnell in the lawsuit Smalley filed, said he did not believe Panepinto's order would affect Gosnell's criminal defense.

McMahon said Panepinto's order exempts Gosnell's legal fees and expenses needed for the criminal defense as well as payment of state and federal taxes.

The Gosnells and eight clinic employees were criminally charged in January after release of a 260-page report of the county grand jury, which described in gory, horrific detail how Gosnell allegedly performed illegal late-term abortions for poor women, in some cases killing infants born viable by cutting their spines with scissors.

Four employees are charged with murder, two involving Mongar's death and two involving the newborns.

Gosnell's wife and all the employees are also charged variously with counts of conspiracy, racketeering, record-tampering, obstruction of justice, and perjury.

Only two of those charged have been released on bail: Tina Baldwin, after posting 10 percent of $150,000, and Madeline Joe, after posting 10 percent of $250,000.

In Harrisburg, meanwhile, the Department of State's top lawyer apologized to members of a Senate panel for his department's role in not correcting the conditions at the clinic, according to Capitolwire.com. Steven V. Turner, the department's chief counsel, told the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure committee that department had "a failure to perform," and added, "I apologize."


Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

|
|
|
|
|