PHILADELPHIA – They say they were just doing what the boss trained them to do.
But eight former employees of a run-down West Philadelphia abortion clinic now face prison time for the work they did for Dr. Kermit Gosnell. Three have pleaded guilty to third-degree murder.
And Gosnell, 72, is on trial in the deaths of a patient and seven babies allegedly born alive.
In testimony at the capital murder trial this past month, an unlicensed doctor and untrained aides described long, chaotic days at the clinic. They said they performed grueling, often gruesome work for little more than minimum wage, paid by Gosnell under the table.
But for most, it was the best job they could find.
Unlicensed doctor Stephen Massof, 50, of Pittsburgh, said he could not get a U.S. medical residency after finishing medical school in Grenada and went to work for Gosnell as a "backup plan" after six years running a bar. He admitted killing two babies by snipping their necks, as he said Gosnell taught him to do.
Eileen O'Neill, 56, had worked as a doctor in Louisiana but relinquished her medical license in 2000 to deal with "post-traumatic stress syndrome," according to her 2011 grand jury testimony. She is the only employee on trial with Gosnell, fighting false billing and racketeering charges.
According to one colleague, O'Neill was increasingly upset at the line of people who came to Gosnell's adjacent medical clinic for painkillers. And she was angry that he wasn't helping her regain her license.
"She said: 'All I do is break my neck for him all the time, and he never does anything for me. I'm going to have to do something about it,'" front desk worker Tina Baldwin testified this week, recalling a conversation with O'Neill.
However, O'Neill, like many others, stayed on at the clinic until a February 2010 drug raid, which was spawned by Gosnell's high-volume distribution of OxyContin and other painkillers.
Gosnell, once a gifted student in his working-class black neighborhood, had put his medical school education to work as a 1970s-era champion of drug treatment and legal abortions. But 30 years later, conditions inside his bustling clinic and his old neighborhood had deteriorated, according to trial testimony.
Defense lawyer Jack McMahon argues that no babies were born alive, and unforeseen complications caused the overdose death of the woman who died.
"Just because the place was less than state-of-the-art doesn't make him a murderer," McMahon said in opening statements last month.
Baldwin, like colleague Latosha Lewis, had trained to be a medical assistant at a for-profit vocational school before going to work for Gosnell in 2002. She handed out drugs at the front desk to induce labor, while Lewis helped perform ultrasounds, administer medications and deliver babies. Lewis worked from 10 a.m. until well after midnight, making $7 to $10 an hour.
"Gosnell recklessly cut corners, allowed patients to choose their medication based on ability to pay, and provided abysmal care — all to maximize his profit," prosecutors wrote in the 2011 grand jury report. "He was not serving his community. Gosnell ran a criminal enterprise, motivated by greed."
Baldwin now faces at least a year in prison, and perhaps much longer, after pleading guilty to federal drug charges and state charges that include corruption of a minor.
Her daughter, Ashley, went to work for Gosnell when she was 15 because she was interested in medicine. Before long, she was working past midnight — and missing school — to help the nocturnal doctor perform abortions. More than once, she said, she saw a baby move after the procedure. Gosnell would explain to his teenage trainee that the movements were a last reflex during the death process.
Ashley Baldwin, now 22, was one of the few clinic workers not charged after the FBI raid.
Two other clinic workers had family ties to Gosnell.
Elizabeth Hampton as a child had been in foster care with Gosnell's third wife, Pearl. And Adrienne Moton, a classmate of Gosnell's daughter, moved in with the family as a teenager because of problems at home. Both have pleaded guilty in the case but hope to get reduced terms in exchange for their cooperation. And Pearl Gosnell, a licensed cosmetologist, pleaded guilty to performing illegal, late-term abortions.
The others convicted include clinic workers Lynda Williams and Sherry West. Williams was hired to clean instruments but soon helped anesthetize patients, perform ultrasounds and carry out abortions, cutting babies in the back of the neck. She has pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, which carries a 20- to 40-year prison sentence.
West, 53, had been a longtime surgical technician at the Veterans Administration but quit in 2007 after contracting Hepatitis C. A year later, still waiting on disability benefits, she went to work for Gosnell.
West has pleaded guilty to third-degree murder for administering drugs to the refugee from Bhutan who died of a drug overdose during a 2009 abortion, but she testified this week she has her doubts about her plea.
"It was so confusing," she said, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I didn't know what to do."