PHILADELPHIA -- For more than three decades, Kermit Barron Gosnell made his name providing abortions in the most difficult cases -- the poor, the uninsured and women pushing the 24-week threshold when abortion becomes illegal in Pennsylvania.
Now the 72-year-old Philadelphia physician has to save a life -- his own -- after a Common Pleas Court jury found him guilty Monday of killing three babies born alive during illegal late-term abortions.
Dr. Gosnell appeared as placidly enigmatic as ever as the jury of seven women and five men came into court at 2:50 p.m., their ninth full day of deliberations, and said he was guilty of three counts of first-degree murder.
The large third-floor courtroom was packed with reporters from local and national media who were locked in and threatened with contempt of court and seizure of cell phones if they tried to communicate the verdict before it was finished.
In Pennsylvania, first-degree murder -- the premeditated, malicious killing of a person -- is punishable by death by lethal injection or life in prison without chance of parole.
Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart set May 21 for the penalty-phase hearing for Dr. Gosnell.
The same jury that found Dr. Gosnell guilty will hear evidence from defense attorney Jack McMahon to persuade the jury to sentence him to life.
Although limited by a gag order from commenting on the case, Mr. McMahon told reporters outside the city's Criminal Justice Center that Dr. Gosnell was "disappointed" and "upset" by the verdict.
"Obviously, the jury has spoken. The prosecution should be commended," he said.
Mr. McMahon said he did not know if he would have Dr. Gosnell testify during the penalty-phase hearing. Dr. Gosnell did not testify at trial and the defense presented no witnesses.
As throughout the trial, no one from Dr. Gosnell's family was in court when the verdict was announced.
Although the evidence prosecutors arrayed against Dr. Gosnell was grim, often gruesome, and compelling, Mr. McMahon may seek out individuals who were helped by Dr. Gosnell during the 31 years he operated the Women's Medical Society.
The trial was closely monitored by anti-abortion groups, some of which made it part of their campaign to challenge the legality of abortion.
Dr. Gosnell began his career during the 1960s "war on poverty," helping found an urban medical clinic and a drug halfway house.
Even in the years before the 2010 drug raid that closed his clinic and led to his arrest, Dr. Gosnell's family practice was known for never turning away patients regardless of their ability to pay.
Assistant district attorneys Edward Cameron and Ms. Pescatore will present what are known as aggravating factors that they will argue warrant a death sentence.
Those factors will likely include evidence that Dr. Gosnell flouted abortion laws to maximize profits -- almost $240,000 in cash was found in his house -- regardless of the age of the fetus or the health of the mother.
The jury acquitted Dr. Gosnell in the death of Baby E, the fourth first-degree murder charge he faced.
The jury also returned the lesser verdict of involuntary manslaughter -- instead of the third-degree murder prosecutors urged -- in the 2009 death of an abortion patient, Karnamaya Mongar, 41, of Virginia, who the jury determined was overdosed on Demerol by Dr. Gosnell's untrained staff.
And the jury acquitted Dr. Gosnell of 17 of 227 counts of violating the 24-hour waiting period before performing an abortion and three of 24 counts of performing abortions on women more than 24 weeks pregnant.
The jury also found Dr. Gosnell's co-defendant, Eileen O'Neill, 56, of Phoenixville, Pa., guilty of two counts of theft by deception and two counts of conspiracy involving her work as an unlicensed doctor at Dr. Gosnell's clinic.
Judge Minehart let Ms. O'Neill remain free on $30,000 bail pending sentencing July 15.
Ms. O'Neill left the courthouse with a jacket covering her face as she ran a gantlet of reporters and photographers. "You know I have a gag order," she said.
Day Gardner, president of the National Black Pro-Life Union in Washington, D.C., said Dr. Gosnell "has caused so much mayhem in Philadelphia for so long. We have no idea how many children he's killed and how many women he has harmed over the last 30 years."
For Dr. Gosnell, the journey leading to the verdict began about 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 18, 2010. After working the day at an abortion clinic in Wilmington, Del., Dr. Gosnell returned to his office in West Philadelphia to begin a series of abortions that typically took him and his staff into the early morning hours.
Both arms full with bags containing his dinner and fresh clams for his pet turtles, Dr. Gosnell was cradling a cell phone on his shoulder, talking to his wife, Pearl, when he was accosted by agents from a federal-state task force with a search warrant for the clinic.
The agents were investigating the sale of prescriptions for oxycodone and other addictive narcotic medicines, and they suspected the scripts were coming from Women's Medical Society.
Agents testified at trial that they picked the evening for their raid because they wanted to avoid patients during their search. Instead, as Dr. Gosnell calmly led them into the rambling three-story brick building, the agents encountered Dr. Gosnell's staff and a half-dozen women sedated and in advanced labor waiting for Dr. Gosnell to perform abortions.
But as they searched for evidence in the drug investigation, agents found other more-shocking evidence: unsanitary conditions including blood and body fluids on the floor and furniture; the odor of a pet store permeating the building from Dr. Gosnell's cat, fish, and turtles; and the remains of aborted fetuses and fetal body parts stored around the clinic.
Within a week, state health officials had suspended Dr. Gosnell's medical license and three months later moved to permanently close the 30-year-old clinic.
In January 2011, the district attorney's office announced charges against Dr. Gosnell alleging that he regularly performed illegal late-term abortions and used scissors to snip the spines of babies born alive. Nine untrained clinic employees -- many who administered medicine, did ultrasound exams and assisted in abortions -- were also charged, including Pearl Gosnell, 52.
In addition to recommending criminal charges, the voluminous grand jury report excoriated state health inspectors for not visiting Dr. Gosnell's clinic for more than a decade and not responding to complaints.
No state employees were criminally charged, but a month later the Corbett administration fired four state lawyers and two supervisors at the state departments of health and state for failing to ensure the inspection of state abortion providers. Mr. Corbett called the state workers' failure to conduct the required annual inspections "despicable."
By the time the case against Dr. Gosnell came to trial in March, all but Dr. Gosnell and Ms. O'Neill had pleaded guilty and most had agreed to testify against Dr. Gosnell.
As for the federal drug probe that started it all, in December 2011, a federal grand jury and federal prosecutors charged Dr. Gosnell and seven workers -- including four who were charged in the abortion case. All but Dr. Gosnell have pleaded guilty to the federal drug charges. Dr. Gosnell is scheduled for jury trial Sept. 9.
First Published May 13, 2013 7:30 PM