Officials: Pennsylvania abortion center deaths no accident

by Whitney Williams
Posted 8/14/12, 01:48 pm

Prosecutors pursuing a Philadelphia abortion provider charged with killing a patient and seven babies want the jury to hear evidence he allegedly ran a pill mill and let unskilled workers practice medicine, saying breaking the law was "standard operating procedure" for him.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell's lawyer hopes to keep any such evidence out of his March murder trial. Gosnell, 71, faces a second trial on federal drug charges, which allege he distributed painkillers like candy at his busy West Philadelphia clinic.

City prosecutors say the deaths were no accident but the result of dangerous medical practices that went on for decades at his filthy Women's Medical Center.

"The uncharged conduct is relevant and should be admitted. It shows that breaking the law was standard operating procedure," Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore wrote in a recent motion.

One former employee told a grand jury that she was expected to perform anesthesia on patients after just 15 minutes of training from Gosnell. Before long, she couldn't sleep at night.

"She knew that if she made even a small error, `I can kill this lady, and I'm not jail material,'" Pescatore wrote in the motion, quoting from the woman's grand jury testimony. "One night in 2002, when she found herself alone with 15 patients, she refused Gosnell's directives to medicate them. She made an excuse, went to her car, and drove away, never to return."

A judge set arguments on the trial evidence question for Oct. 29. But at a brief hearing Monday, Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey Minehart asked lawyers to resolve what they could through negotiations, given the complexity of the case.

Nine other clinic workers were charged in the case, including Gosnell's wife. Several have pleaded guilty to third-degree murder for their role in performing late-term abortions, when prosecutors say at least seven babies were born alive and then killed with scissors.

They are expected to testify in the state case against Gosnell, who faces the death penalty if convicted. His wife, Pearl, a trained cosmetician, pleaded guilty to performing an illegal, late-term abortion and other charges, but she has the legal right not to testify against her husband.

Gosnell is also charged in the 2009 death of a 41-year-old woman who allegedly died of an overdose of painkillers and other drugs during an abortion.

The federal charges allege that Gosnell made at least $200,000 from the illicit drug distribution, having staff write as many as 2,300 prescriptions a month for OxyContin and other highly addictive, controlled drugs.

That trial, initially set for next month, has been postponed indefinitely.

Gosnell was not in court Monday in the murder case. Defense lawyer Jack McMahon has three weeks to respond to the prosecution motion. He cannot comment outside of court because of a gag order.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Whitney Williams

Whitney is a member of WORLD's development team.

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