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Philadelphia doctor accused of murdering patient, newborns

By Sarah Hoye and Michael Martinez, CNN
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Doctor faces multiple murder charges
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Words don't "allow me to fully describe how horrific this clinic was," prosecutors says
  • NEW: The attorney for Dr. Kermit Barron Gosnell, is "shocked" at the hundreds of charges
  • Gosnell, 69, is accused of killing a female patient
  • He's also accused of killing seven babies born alive in illegal abortions by cutting spinal cords

Philadelphia (CNN) -- Allegedly running what the prosecutor calls "a house of horrors," a Philadelphia physician, Kermit Barron Gosnell, was charged Wednesday with murder and other offenses related to illegal, late-term abortions.

The doctor is accused of causing the death of one of his female patients and killing seven viable babies in illegal abortions, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said.

The babies were born alive in the sixth, seventh and eighth months of pregnancy, but their spinal cords were allegedly severed with scissors, Williams said in a statement.

Nine other people who worked in the west Philadelphia medical office, including Gosnell's wife and sister-in-law, also were charged, Williams said. The practice, called the Women's Medical Society, served mostly low-income minority women for years, he said.

Williams provided a grisly scenario of the shuttered abortion clinic: A search of the office last year by authorities found bags and bottles holding aborted fetuses scattered throughout the building. Jars containing the severed feet of babies lined a shelf. Furniture and equipment was blood-stained, dusty and broken.

In an interview with CNN, Williams described the abortion clinic as "horrific" and providing "botched and illegal abortions."

"It was a house of horrors beyond any type of definition or explanation I can humbly try to give," Williams told CNN. "And it's very sad for the women that were there, that were subjected to such horrific and barbaric -- I would say medical treatment but it wasn't medical -- treatment.

Suspect 'thought he was doing good'

"My grasp of the English language doesn't really allow me to fully describe how horrific this clinic was -- rotting bodies, fetal remains, the smell of urine throughout, blood-stained," Williams continued.

He said women patients were often "very poor."

"The doctor gained a reputation. People far and wide knew that he performed abortions at any time," Williams said.

Williams described one of the alleged infant deaths.

"The baby had been born and was on a cold steel table and murdered by using -- there's no medical basis for snipping or taking scissors and putting them into the neck and cutting, severing the spinal cord. It's just homicide. It's just murder," Williams told CNN.

Gosnell's attorney, William J. Brennan of Philadelphia, told CNN he was surprised at the "length and breadth" of the grand jury's presentment and report against Gosnell and the nine other defendants. Gosnell is facing hundreds of counts, including charges for seven first-degree murders charges and a third-degree murder, according to Williams and the grand jury's 62-page presentment.

"The DA of Philadelphia, Seth Williams, is a good guy, and I have a lot of respect for him, but he played this so close to the vest that we were shocked at the number of charges," Brennan told CNN.

"I hope there is no rush to judgment in this case," Brennan continued. "Dr. Gosnell should enjoy the same presumption of innocence anyone in this country, you or me, should get if we were charged with a crime. In the process of reviewing the grand jury's presentment, which is several hundred pages, I understand that the charges are very serious, and we will need some time to read through the grand jury's presentment and its report."

Gosnell, 69, is not a board-certified obstetrician or gynecologist, Williams said.

Originally, he said, the clinic used another doctor as a consultant so it could receive a license to perform abortions in 1979.

Two primary state agencies, the Department of Health and the Department of State, have oversight, Williams said Wednesday at a news conference.

But a grand jury investigation found that health and licensing officials had received repeated reports about Gosnell's dangerous practices for two decades with no action taken, even after the agencies learned that women had died during routine abortions under Gosnell's care, the district attorney's statement said.

"What the (grand) jury found most troubling is that neither of those agencies took the time to investigate, to observe, to view, to go to the clinic itself since 1993," Williams said during the news conference.

"I am aware that abortion is a hot-button topic," Williams said in his statement. "But as district attorney, my job is to carry out the law. A doctor who knowingly and systematically mistreats female patients, to the point that one of them dies in his so-called care, commits murder under the law.

"A doctor who cuts into the necks severing the spinal cords of living, breathing babies, who would survive with proper medical attention, is committing murder under the law."

Gosnell is also accused of reusing unsanitary instruments; performing procedures in filthy rooms, including some having litter boxes and animals present during operations; and allowing unlicensed employees to perform operations and administer anesthesia, including a teenage high school student, Williams said.

Gosnell's wife, Pearl, 49, of Philadelphia, is also facing charges of providing an abortion at 24 or more weeks, conspiracy and other related charges, Williams said. She has no medical license and is accused of performing illegal abortions at the clinic, he said.

Elizabeth Hampton, 51, of Philadelphia, who is Gosnell's sister-in-law, is facing charges of hindering prosecution, perjury, false swearing and obstructing administration of law.

Donald Schwarz, Philadelphia deputy mayor for health and opportunity and city health commissioner, said the city doesn't have jurisdiction over abortion clinics. The state has authority to regulate abortion providers, he said.

"For the city we view this as a terrible thing and a tragedy for the women and the families involved," Schwarz said.

"It's really frightening for women in the city. It highlights for many women what it must have been like to go into that exam room," he continued. "The way we deal with abortion is in secret, and for many, it's perceived as shameful and I'm sure that many of the women felt they didn't have other options.

"The message I want to get out is that reproductive health services in the city are safe. I don't want this to change women's views of the services," Schwarz said. "This was an unusual provider."

Law enforcement officers came upon "the medical abuses" while investigating tips that the doctor had been illegally selling thousands of prescriptions for OxyContin and other narcotics to "patients" that he never examined, Williams said.

The doctor himself was seldom present, the district attorney charged. In his absence, untrained, unsupervised workers, including the teenage girl, routinely injected sedatives into women undergoing illegal late-term abortions, he alleged.

Among numerous charges, Gosnell is accused of third-degree murder in the death of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar, Williams said.

Mongar died on November 20, 2009, when she was overdosed with anesthetics prescribed by Gosnell, he said.

Gosnell is also facing seven murder charges in the deaths of infants allegedly killed after being born viable and alive during the sixth, seventh and eighth months of pregnancy in illegal, late-term abortions, Williams said.

Gosnell is also charged with infanticide, conspiracy, abortion at 24 or more weeks of pregnancy, corpse abuse, theft, corruption of minors, solicitation and other related offenses, he said.

Seven other employees at the clinic were also charged, according to the district attorney's statement:

-- Lynda Williams, 42, of Wilmington, Delaware, also is charged with third-degree murder in Mongar's death. Williams is accused of being an unlicensed worker who routinely performed illegal operations and administered anesthesia. She is also facing murder charges for the death of a viable baby born alive, abortion at 24 or more weeks and other related offenses.

-- Sherry West, 51, of Newark, Delaware, is charged with third-degree murder. She was allegedly an unlicensed worker at the clinic who routinely performed illegal operations and administered anesthesia. She is also facing a charge of providing an abortion at 24 or more weeks and other related offenses.

-- Adrienne Moton, 33, of Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, is charged with murder in the death of a viable baby born alive. She was allegedly an unlicensed worker at the clinic who routinely and illegally administered anesthesia to patients.

-- Steven Massof, 48, of Pittsburgh, is facing murder charges for the deaths of two viable babies born alive. Massof, a medical school graduate without a license or any certification, allegedly worked as a doctor at the clinic. He is also facing conspiracy and other related charges.

-- Eileen O'Neill, 54, of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, is a medical school graduate who allegedly worked as a doctor at the clinic without a license or certification. She is facing theft by deception, conspiracy, perjury and false swearing charges.

-- Tina Baldwin, 45, of Philadelphia, is facing charges of racketeering, conspiracy and corruption of a minor. She was allegedly an unlicensed worker at the clinic who illegally administered anesthesia to patients and allowed her 15-year-old daughter to administer anesthesia to patients as well.

-- Office manager Maddline Joe, 53, of Philadelphia, is charged with conspiracy.

CNN's Philip Gast contributed to this report.

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