WILMINGTON, Del. – The lawyer for an abortion provider convicted of killing babies who were born alive said he thinks regular inspections at his client's Philadelphia clinic would have kept him from going so far astray.
Longtime doctor Kermit Gosnell "was not a stupid man" and would have met the standards required to keep his clinic open, defense lawyer Jack McMahon said at a law school seminar on Friday.
"That doesn't excuse the behavior that occurred here, but I think that (inspections) would have prevented it, because Dr. Gosnell was not a stupid man. He may not have been at the Mayo Clinic (level), but he would have risen to a higher level of competence ... to remain open," said McMahon, who joined Gosnell trial judge Jeffrey Minehart on a panel on high-publicity trials at Widener University School of Law.
Gosnell, 73, is serving a life sentence after his conviction last year for killing three babies born alive and the overdose death of a woman who was a clinic patient. Investigators described his clinic as a chaotic "house of horrors," replete with fetal remains in the staff refrigerator, specimen jars of severed feet in his office and dirty medical instruments in the surgery rooms.
Authorities in Pennsylvania had failed to conduct routine inspections of all its abortion clinics for 15 years by the time Gosnell's facility was raided as part of a prescription drug investigation.
Gosnell later pleaded guilty in federal court to running a pill mill for addicts and drug dealers. In the scandal's aftermath, two top state health officials were fired, and the state imposed tougher rules for clinics.
McMahon said he believes that regulators turned a blind eye to Gosnell's West Philadelphia clinic because it was providing "a cheap service" to poor, minority women.
Former clinic employees testified that Gosnell routinely performed illegal abortions past Pennsylvania's 24-week limit. They said that Gosnell delivered babies who were still moving and that he and his assistants killed them by snipping their spines with scissors.
Gosnell's biggest transgression may have been hiring high school dropouts and other unqualified people to act as doctors, McMahon said. The employees performed abortions, administered anesthesia and monitored high-risk patients.
Four former clinic employees pleaded guilty to murder and four more to other charges. The co-defendants included Gosnell's wife, a cosmetologist who helped perform abortions.
Despite the life sentence, Gosnell was acquitted in the deaths of four other babies. McMahon also negotiated a post-conviction deal that spared Gosnell a potential death sentence.
Minehart, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge, said Gosnell's trial "was a fascinating trial to be a part of."
"I found it to be a tremendous experience," he said. "I couldn't have been happier when it was over."