Gosnell starts serving three consecutive life terms

Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron talks about the case against Kermit Gosnell, with prosecutor Joanne Pescatore to his leftt during a post-sentencing news conference. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron talks about the case against Kermit Gosnell, with prosecutor Joanne Pescatore to his leftt during a post-sentencing news conference. TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 16, 2013

Without explanation or excuse, West Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell started serving three consecutive life sentences Wednesday for the murder of three babies who a jury found were born alive during illegal late-term abortions.

"Is there anything you wish to say?" asked Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart before imposing the three life terms plus 21/2 to five years.

"Not at this time," replied Gosnell.

After the jury's verdict Monday, the 72-year-old physician had faced a hearing next week at which the jurors would decide whether to sentence him to death by lethal injection or life in prison without parole.

Gosnell quickly took the decision away from them. Late Tuesday afternoon, he struck a deal with the District Attorney's Office under which he waived his appeal rights to escape a death sentence.

The deal reduced Wednesday's sentencing hearing to a 15-minute formality and Minehart said nothing but the words needed to sentence him.

Gosnell thanked the judge for his nine-week trial and turned to defense attorney Jack McMahon and said, "Good job."

McMahon shook Gosnell's hand and slapped him loudly on the back. And then Gosnell was gone, taken through a side door to the elevators and to holding cells under the Criminal Justice Center.

Gosnell was returned to the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility but is expected to be transferred soon to the Federal Detention Center at Seventh and Arch Streets. Prosecutors said they were not sure if Gosnell would serve out his life terms in the state or federal prison system.

Gosnell faces a federal trial Sept. 9 in the alleged trafficking in prescriptions for highly addictive narcotics. That investigation led to the Feb. 18, 2010, raid on Gosnell's Women's Medical Society clinic at 3801 Lancaster Ave. and revealed the illegal abortion practice.

Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron told Minehart in court Wednesday that McMahon and federal prosecutors were also working toward a guilty plea.

With Gosnell sentenced, Minehart and Judge Benjamin Lerner will begin sentencing the eight clinic employees who pleaded guilty. A ninth employee, Eileen O'Neill, 52, of Phoenixville, an unlicensed doctor who worked in Gosnell's family practice, went to trial with Gosnell, was convicted of defrauding patients, and will be sentenced July 15.

In his first news conference about Gosnell's case since a gag order was imposed shortly after Gosnell was charged in January 2011, District Attorney Seth Williams called the case "arguably the most gruesome" he has seen.

Flanked by prosecutors Joanne Pescatore and Cameron, and police and detectives who investigated the case, Williams said, "I will not mince words, and this is not mere hyperbole, Kermit Gosnell at some point became a monster. Any doctor who cuts into the necks severing the spinal cords of living, breathing babies, who could otherwise survive with proper medical attention, is a murderer and a monster."

Williams defended his decision to reach a post-conviction plea deal with Gosnell.

Williams called the case "groundbreaking" and said Gosnell's agreement to waive his appeal rights means "I have acted to seal and preserve those verdicts for all time."

"I'm sure there will be many people that would say that life in prison for him, at his age of 72, will be too good," Williams told reporters. "I know I'll be criticized by some, but I think in many ways we have shown him mercy where he failed to show mercy to the lives of women that came to his Lancaster Avenue clinic.

"I don't think there's a doctor in the world who would think that receiving three consecutive life sentences is not a deterrent to illegally allowing children to be born alive . . . and snip their spinal cords," Williams added. "I don't think there's one doctor who will say, 'Well, you know, Kermit didn't get the death penalty.' "

Outside the courthouse, McMahon continued defending his client, telling reporters that "this was presented in the beginning as a house of horrors, a hideous place. That's just not true."

McMahon called the trial "such a trampling of justice" and said the public was poisoned against Gosnell by the media: "The lynching by the media prior to the trial was definitely intense."

McMahon said he respected the jury's verdict but "just because we respect it doesn't mean that that's the truth."

He said Gosnell was "far from a monster" and that his client "believes what he did was not homicide."

McMahon said Gosnell chose life in prison because of his children: "He did not want to subject them to any more negativity."

Three jurors agreed to talk with reporters afterward and seemed to stake out a middle ground between prosecution and defense.

"I would say he's more of a predator than a monster," said foreman David Misko. Referring to Gosnell's patients and employees, Misko said, "He preyed on all of them."

In addition to finding Gosnell guilty of the three counts of first-degree murder, the jury of seven women and five men found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the 2009 overdose death of abortion patient Karnamaya Mongar, 41, of Virginia, and more than 200 counts of violating the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act.

The 21/2 to five years Minehart added to Gosnell's three life terms were for Mongar, and Philadelphia lawyer Bernard W. Smalley Sr. gave the only victim-impact testimony Wednesday.

Smalley, who is representing the Mongar family in a civil lawsuit against Gosnell and the City of Philadelphia, said the family was devastated by Mongar's death just four months after she and her family immigrated to the United States after 20 years living in huts in a Nepalese camp for Bhutanese refugees.

Though Mongar's family was not in court, Smalley said it wanted to thank the prosecutors, judge, and jury "for their patience. For what they saw was a justice system that worked for them and they are thankful for that."

At the news conference, Williams excoriated state Health Department officials for failing to inspect Gosnell's clinic for 17 years. Had they done so, Williams added, Mongar might be alive.

The jury determined that Mongar died after being given too much Demerol by Gosnell's untrained staff.

Williams said Gosnell "knowingly and systematically mistreated female patients for years, which ultimately resulted in the tragic death of Karnamaya Mongar."

From investigation to grand jury to trial, the Gosnell case was handled mostly by two female prosecutors: Pescatore and Christine Wechsler.

Wechsler left the office for a job in Gov. Corbett's office several weeks before trial, though she joined Pescatore, Cameron, and Williams at the news conference.

"This was an honor to try this case," Pescatore said. "I think that when the verdict came in, that's when I really got emotional, because for me, personally, I had to put this someplace in my mind to try to block what . . . we all saw when we first went to the clinic on that first day.

"As a woman, to see the squalor, to talk to these patients, to talk to the people who worked there, it was beyond belief that something like that could happen in a city such as this," Pescatore said. "And I just thank God that we were able to do something about it, and that hopefully something like this will never happen again."



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

Inquirer staff writers Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman and John P. Martin contributed to this article.

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