Prosecutors close case in Gosnell murder trial

Posted: April 20, 2013

After five weeks of testimony by 34 witnesses and 546 exhibits, Philadelphia prosecutors closed their case Thursday in the murder trial of West Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell.

On Monday, lawyers for Gosnell, 72, and Eileen O'Neill, 56, an unlicensed doctor who worked in Gosnell's family practice, will begin presenting their cases to the Common Pleas Court jury of seven women and five men.

It's not known if Gosnell or O'Neill will testify.

The jury has been told that the Constitution does not require the defense to present a case and that it may not consider whether it does in reaching a verdict.

But Gosnell's attorney, Jack McMahon, and O'Neill's attorney, James Berardinelli, told prosecutors they will have witnesses.

The prosecution's last witness was Kareema Cross, a former worker at Gosnell's Women's Medical Society clinic at 3801 Lancaster Ave.

In four hours on the witness stand, Cross, 28, told the jury that she became disillusioned with how Gosnell ran the clinic and, using a false name, reported him to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration office in Philadelphia.

The DEA had already begun a probe of Gosnell's alleged sales of prescriptions for addictive narcotics. After a Feb. 18, 2010 raid on the clinic, she also testified before a grand jury probe into allegations Gosnell was performing illegal late-term abortions.

Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron, Cross said that in October 2008 she took 10 photographs showing unsanitary conditions and fetal remains at the clinic.

McMahon challenged Cross' credibility and altruism, arguing that she reported Gosnell to the DEA after their workplace relationship soured.

"You still worked there, right?" McMahon asked.

"I had a family to take care of," Cross replied.

"Dr. Gosnell wrote you a letter, didn't he, indicating your performance was slacking?" asked McMahon.

Cross insisted that Gosnell wrote the 2009 letter to mask his disapproval of her pregnancy and justify terminating her.

Berardinelli questioned why Cross, unlike nine other Gosnell workers, was not prosecuted by the District Attorney's Office and was promised probation by federal prosecutors.

Cross was not charged in Gosnell's Philadelphia murder case. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the federal drug case and will likely testify against Gosnell in that trial, which is scheduled for Sept. 9.

Gosnell is being tried on seven counts of first-degree murder - seven infants allegedly born alive during abortions and killed. If the jury finds him guilty, Gosnell could be sentenced to death.

Gosnell is also charged with a count of third-degree murder in the death of a Virginia woman allegedly overdosed on Demerol by untrained staff.

O'Neill was not charged with performing abortions. She is charged with participating in a "corrupt organization."

Cross said she earned a medical assistant diploma in a nine-month program at Cittone Institute in West Philadelphia, now Lincoln Technical Institutes. She said she began working for Gosnell in August 2005 at $10 an hour.

Like other Gosnell workers, Cross testified that the doctor soon had her doing medical procedures, including assisting in abortions, for which she was not trained.

She said the clinic routinely ignored requirements of Pennsylvania's Abortion Control Act, such as the 24-hour waiting period before a woman undergoes an abortion.

Cross said Gosnell regularly did late second-trimester abortions and third-trimester procedures that he documented as "24.5 weeks." (Abortions are legal in Pennsylvania through the second trimester or 24 weeks.) She also described at least 15 instances of babies born alive and breathing after procedures. She said Gosnell and other clinic workers killed the newborns by cutting their spines with surgical scissors.

Cross testified that Gosnell told her several times the fetal movement she saw was "not real" but involuntary spasms.

Cross said she left the clinic in December 2009 after Gosnell criticized her for going elsewhere to have an abortion in 2007.

"I just couldn't do it," Cross said of having Gosnell do the abortion. She cited the unsanitary conditions and the fact that Gosnell was her boss. Gosnell was displeased, she said.


Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985, jslobodzian@phillynews.com, or @joeslobo on Twitter.

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