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3 murder charges dismissed against Gosnell, but 4 remain

WASHINGTON (BP) — A judge dismissed three first-degree murder charges against Kermit Gosnell after a week of some of the most gruesome testimony yet in the trial of the Philadelphia abortion doctor who allegedly committed infanticide.

The ruling Tuesday (April 23) means Gosnell, 72, still faces four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of viable children who were killed after delivery and a count of third-degree murder in the death of a Virginia woman during a 2009 abortion. Gosnell could receive the death penalty if he is convicted of first-degree murder.

The prosecution rested its case April 18 after five weeks of testimony, much of it from former Gosnell employees who recounted the killings of babies struggling for life outside the womb and the horrible conditions at the West Philadelphia clinic. Before beginning the defense’s case Tuesday, Gosnell attorney Jack McMahon asked for an acquittal verdict in all seven counts of first-degree murder.

After heated arguments from McMahon and Assistant District Attorney Edward Cameron, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffery Minehart dropped three of the counts without explanation, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. McMahon argued there was not sufficient evidence the babies were delivered alive. Cameron told Minehart witnesses had testified that six of the seven babies involved were moving outside the womb and the body of the seventh, who was at least 28 weeks into gestation, was found in a clinic freezer with a hole in the back of his neck. “Why put a hole in the neck of a baby unless you’re killing it?,” asked Cameron, The Inquirer reported.

The seven babies involved in the original first-degree murder charges were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at Gosnell’s clinic, according to a 281-page grand jury report in 2011. After delivery, Gosnell — or another staff member — would jab scissors into the back of a baby’s neck and cut the spinal cord, witnesses and the grand jury reported. Gosnell called the killing of these children “snipping.”

Day Gardner, president of the National Black Pro-life Union, described the testimony as “extremely shocking and sickening.” Gardner attended the trial two or three days a week for the final four weeks of the prosecution’s case and sat in on Tuesday’s proceedings. In an interview with Baptist Press, she said Gosnell’s treatment of the poor, minority women of West Philadelphia made the African-American doctor a “racist of the worst kind.”

Among testimony Gardner and others heard during the fifth week of the trial:

— Clinic maintenance worker James Johnson testified April 16 he frequently had to remove from the plumbing system the body parts of babies expelled in clinic toilets. Women seeking abortions would receive a drug that causes contractions, witnesses said. They would sometimes deliver their babies in the waiting room or in toilets.

Former clinic employee Kareema Cross testified April 18 she once witnessed a large baby moving his arms and legs in a swimming motion after being born in the toilet, according to a report by Cheryl Sullenger, a pro-life advocate whose research has produced disciplinary action against various abortion doctors. Sullenger, senior policy advisor for Operation Rescue, has attended some of the trial and provided reports. Gosnell was away from the clinic, so another employee “snipped” the baby’s spinal cord while the mother watched, Cross said.

The toilets would become clogged once or twice a week, Johnson told the jury, Sullenger reported. When he opened the cleanout drain outside the building, the waste that poured out included arms and other parts of babies, Johnson testified. After Gosnell instructed him to dispose of the material, Johnson shoveled the human tissue into a bag and placed it in a freezer, he said. He repeatedly performed this clean-up operation, Johnson said.

Johnson also testified he would remove medical waste, which consisted of the remains of aborted babies, from the procedure rooms each morning, Sullenger reported. He would prepare the bags of medical waste for pick-up by a waste disposal company. When an apparent billing conflict occurred, the disposal company stopped picking up the waste. There were 27 bags containing the remains of aborted babies stacked at one time in the rat-infested basement, Johnson said.

— Cross testified she witnessed 10 to 25 delivered, breathing babies die by “snipping,” The Wilmington (Del.) News Journal reported. In one case, she saw a child whose “chest was going up and down,” she said. Another worker pulled the baby’s hand, “and the baby pulled the arm back” before the employee cut his spinal cord.

In another instance, Cross heard from outside a room a “whine, a soft whine, once” by another child. She did not enter the room and did not know what happened to the baby, according to The News Journal.

On another occasion, Gosnell placed a large baby boy who was expelled from his mother’s womb in a plastic container, Cross told the jury. His arms and legs hung outside the container, but the baby pulled them in to “fit itself into the box” while Gosnell carried the container to a table, she said, the newspaper reported. Gosnell severed his spinal cord. The boy was so large, Gosnell joked, he could have “walked to the store and the bus stop,” Cross testified.

Gosnell told Cross several times the movements were involuntary spasms and “not real,” she said, according to The Inquirer.

Here is an excerpt from BP’s email interview with Gardner:

BP: I assume you had read the grand jury report or at least a significant portion of it. Has there been anything in the trial that has struck you as shocking or particularly alarming about Gosnell’s practice and clinic?

Gardner: Where do you begin? Everything is extremely shocking and sickening. I was overwhelmed at hearing the testimony of James Johnson, Gosnell’s handy man, as he explained about the toilets being stopped up several times per week and when he plunged the toilets he saw baby arms and legs. How painful to realize human beings could be so brutal and cruel to other human beings — and to hear people talk about it with little or no emotion.

BP: You have commented on Gosnell preying on poor, minority women. What are your comments about that aspect of his practice after listening to the testimony so far?

Gardner: Kermit Gosnell is a racist of the worst kind. The way in which he preyed on women in his own community — of his own race — makes him the poster boy for black-on-black crime. He even segregated waiting rooms, lumping poor black girls into filthy first floor waiting areas while escorting white girls upstairs to rooms that were slightly cleaner.

BP: What were your thoughts regarding those babies who were killed by “snipping” as you heard testimony about the treatment of those children by Gosnell and clinic workers?

Gardner: I think about the children who were born — so many children delivered into warm hands, breathing their first breath, seeing first light and moments later jabbed in the back of the head, brutally murdered.

BP: What do you think, or hope, the impact of the trial will be on abortion in America?

Gardner: I pray that America will see the humanity of the children who have been brutally slaughtered and continue to be slaughtered — without mercy — and then discarded like yesterday’s trash.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).