Judge: 1 trial for Pa. abortion doctor, staffers

PHILADELPHIA - September 30, 2011

Judge Benjamin Lerner sympathized with defense lawyers who expect the testimony to be highly emotional when Dr. Kermit Gosnell and nine clinic workers go on trial together, but he said the daughter of a 41-year-old immigrant who died and other witnesses should not have to testify repeatedly.

Lerner denied motions from co-defendants Eileen O'Neill and Elizabeth Hampton to be tried separately, but acknowledged they had "legitimate concerns" about the expected evidence and testimony.

"There's no question that there's going to be some prejudice that attaches to a defendant in that position," Lerner said. The judge, however, said the law calls not for separate trials but clear instructions to jurors to weigh the evidence against each defendant individually.

Gosnell, 70, was not in court. He is being held without bail in the deaths of the woman who died after a botched 2009 abortion and seven late-term babies who prosecutors say were born alive and then killed with scissors.

Four co-defendants are also charged with murder, while the remaining five are charged with lesser crimes.

The latter group includes O'Neill, a medical school graduate who is charged with taking part in a corrupt organization and with theft for holding herself out as a doctor despite not having a license.

Her lawyer, Gregory Pagano, called the latter charge a "novel" and "convoluted" interpretation of the theft statute. And he insisted his client saw only elderly patients, not the women who streamed to the clinic for three decades for abortions or the addicts who frequented the alleged "pill mill" for painkillers.

"This practice saw a lot of elderly patients ... as a courtesy to the community," Pagano said. "Those are the patients she was seeing, and they weren't paying patients."

Lerner said there was sufficient evidence in the 261-page grand jury report to suggest O'Neill had held herself out as a licensed physician, and to send the theft charges to trial.

Hampton, 52, is charged with perjury for allegedly lying to investigators.

Authorities searched the Women's Medical Society, a corner clinic in West Philadelphia, after they heard complaints about possible illegal prescription drug sales. Instead, they said they found a filthy, dangerous abortion clinic. They said they came across infant feet lined up in jars, fetal remains stored beside staff lunches in a refrigerator and other unsanitary, even ghoulish, practices.

Defense lawyers have vowed to fight the charges, but are now barred from comment by a gag order.

Authorities believe Gosnell made millions of dollars over the years, dispensing pills by day and performing abortions - many of them illegal, late-term abortions - on nights and weekends. Pearl Gosnell, the doctor's wife and a cosmetologist, is charged with performing very late-term abortions on Sundays, when the clinic was ostensibly closed.

The clinic went largely unregulated by state officials who failed to investigate repeated complaints for more than a decade, the January grand jury found.

Pearl Gosnell and several others free on bail attended Friday's hearing.

"They can kill me, I'm not going back to jail," an emotional Hampton, 52, said afterward.

The next pretrial hearing, on defense motions to bar evidence at trial, is set for Nov. 17.

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