'Desperate' workers to testify in abortion trial
Published: March 25, 2013
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A 2011 grand jury report on a busy West Philadelphia abortion clinic described patients being overmedicated, maimed and even killed during lax, long-unregulated procedures.
But prosecutors say Dr. Kermit Gosnell also abused his low-paid staff, relying on untrained workers to anesthetize, prep and monitor patients before he arrived at night to perform surgery — sometimes after working at his other clinic in Delaware.
Gosnell, 72, is on trial this month for eight counts of murder, in the deaths of a patient and seven babies allegedly born alive. The second week of testimony starts Monday.
The jury may soon hear from a string of former employees, whose harrowing, low-paid work led them to face criminal charges of their own.
In opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said they were nearly as "desperate" as the women seeking late-term abortions. Three have pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, and potentially face 20 to 40 years in prison.
The two other "doctors" on Gosnell's staff were medical school graduates without Pennsylvania licenses, one of whom, Steven Massof of Pittsburgh, worked for just a few hundred dollars a week, authorities said.
An employee giving anesthesia was a sixth-grade dropout, while a 15-year-old high school student helped in the surgical and recovery rooms, Pescatore said. That girl's mother also worked at the clinic, and was charged, among other things, with corruption of a minor.
Adrienne Moton has been the only worker to testify so far. Moton, a family friend, had moved in with the Gosnells in high school, then worked at the clinic from 2005 to 2008. She earned $8 to $10 an hour.
But she could make $120 on a busy Saturday, when Gosnell performed what he called "second trimester" cases and gave staff $20 per patient. Prosecutors charge that some of those procedures were illegal, third-term abortions.
Moton, 35, has been in prison since the indictment two years ago, and awaits sentencing for third-degree murder.
"I kept doing whatever I was told," she told the jury last week.
That included cutting the necks of at least 10 babies after they were born. Gosnell told her it was standard procedure, she said.
Gosnell, an elegant man who appears serene in court, smiled softly as he listened to testimony last week, even that of a young woman who said she was hospitalized for two weeks after a 2009 abortion.
Her baby, "Baby A," became the subject of a murder count after Moton turned over a cellphone picture of him to the FBI.
A neonatologist testified that his gestational age appeared to be about 27 to 30 weeks. But defense lawyer Jack McMahon pointed out the margin of error for prenatal testing is nearly two weeks.
The legal limit for abortions is 24 weeks in Pennsylvania, where that teen mother delivered, and 20 weeks in Delaware, where she was given drugs to start the abortion process.
The trial resumes Monday.