Unlicensed doctor pleads in Philly abortion case

PHILADELPHIA - November 3, 2011

Steven Massof, 49, of Pittsburgh, pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree murder, murder conspiracy and other charges.

Massof testified to a grand jury that he snipped the spines of more than 100 babies after seeing them breathe, move or show other signs of life.

"Severing the spinal cords of moving, breathing babies outside their mothers' wombs was, according to Massof, `standard procedure,"' the grand jury report centered on Dr. Kermit Gosnell's clinic charged.

"Gosnell encouraged his staff to kill babies born alive; Lynda Williams, Adrienne Moton and Steven Massof all followed his barbaric example," said the nearly 300-page report, issued in January.

Gosnell, 70, is charged with killing seven babies and a woman who died after a botched abortion at his Women's Medical Center. He has pleaded not guilty.

The jaw-dropping grand jury report described filthy, inhumane conditions at the clinic, which served many poor and immigrant women.

Massof is the fourth of 10 defendants to plead guilty in the case.

Moton, a medical assistant, pleaded guilty last week to third-degree murder in the 41-year-old patient's death from an overdose of anesthesia that she helped administer. Medical technician Sherry West pleaded guilty the same day to third-degree murder in a newborn's death.

Massof's plea involved two babies allegedly stabbed by Gosnell while Massof assisted with the abortion. A foreign medical school graduate without a license, he worked for Gosnell for a few hundred dollars a week.

"Massof testified that Gosnell taught him and showed the scissors-in-the-neck technique to `ensure fetal demise.' Gosnell's students parroted his grisly techniques," the grand jury report said.

Massof's two murder convictions could bring a life term, but he'll likely get a reduced sentence for his plea and potential cooperation.

The fourth defendant pleaded guilty to perjury.

Massof remains in custody. He had also been charged with theft by deception for billing as a licensed doctor, one of several charges dropped in exchange for his plea. He answered questions from the judge in a monotone voice Thursday, exhibiting little expression.

Gosnell, the only licensed doctor at the clinic, typically did not arrive until late at night to perform abortions, leaving untrained, unlicensed staff to give anesthesia, monitor patients and perform other skilled care, prosecutors charged. State regulators did not inspect the clinic for years, according to the grand jury.

Gosnell has pleaded not guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder and other charges. His wife Pearl, 50, is charged with conspiracy, performing illegal late-term abortion and other charges. Williams, also charged with first-degree murder, is due in court next week for a status hearing.

Both prosecutors and Massof's defense lawyer, Jeffrey M. Lindy, declined to comment after the hearing, citing a gag order.

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