By Tony Hanson
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Opening statements and the start of testimony got underway today in one of the most gruesome and disturbing criminal cases in Philadelphia history.
Abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder, and one count of third-degree murder (see related stories).
The prosecution alleges he induced labor and delivered live babies, then killed them by cutting or snipping their spinal cords with scissors. Witnesses who worked at the clinic are expected to testify that it was a common practice.
Philadelphia prosecutor Joanne Pescatore says it was all about the money. At the Women’s Medical Society — the abortion clinic Gosnell ran in West Philadelphia — she says virtually no laws were followed.
She told the jury in her opening statement today that it was standard practice to “slay babies.”
According to Pescatore, babies were born alive but Dr. Gosnell — or untrained, unlicensed staff members — plunged scissors into their necks and killed them.
Pescatore said the practices were “inexcusable,” “unconscionable,” and “criminal.” “It was murder,” she summarized.
Then, in a fiery opening statement, defense attorney Jack McMahon told the jury that Gosnell’s murder prosecution is “elitist” and “racist,” and a “prosecutorial lychning of this African-American doctor for who he is and what he did” — although McMahon conceded the abortion center was no Mayo Clinic.
Jurors in this case had already been warned during jury selection they would hear the very graphic testimony from witnesses and see graphic pictures of aborted fetuses, dead babies, and body parts stored in the office.
Gosnell has pleaded not guilty, and with a gag order in place since early in the case, this was defense attorney Jack McMahon’s first opportunity to address the gruesome evidence and related charges.