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New governor vows action as abortion doctor arraigned for murder

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Doctor faces murder charges
  • NEW: Pennsylvania's new governow seeks answers, vows action on abortion clinic
  • NEW: 2 nominees to head departments ordered to find answers
  • The doctor is accused of murdering 7 premature babies just after they were born
  • A top Philadelphia health system says it began warning about Gosnell in 1999

(CNN) -- Pennsylvania's newly elected governor offered a harsh assessment and vowed decisive action Thursday to determine why authorities took so long to root out an abortion clinic at which at least one mother and seven viable babies were killed.

Earlier in the day, a Pennsylvania district court judge ordered the head of the West Philadelphia office, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, be held in jail without bail after he was arraigned on eight murder counts and a host of other charges. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams earlier called the facility "a house of horrors" that performed "botched and illegal abortions" and was full of containers of fetuses' body parts.

Bail was similarly denied for three others purportedly involved in illicit and deadly actions at the practice, according to a statement from the district attorney. Bail was set for the other six defendants -- including Gosnell's wife and sister-in-law -- at $150,000 to $2 million.

The charges against Gosnell came to light a day earlier, which was also Gov. Tom Corbett's first full day in office.

That Wednesday, the Republican governor read the grand jury report and ordered two department head nominees "to find out what went wrong and to come up with where the breakdowns were and an action plan to fix them," his spokesman Kevin Harley said.

"It's deplorable, and you can't believe it," Harley said. "There were failures in the system, and those failures are going to be addressed."

All those arraigned Thursday had some role at the Women's Medical Society clinic, which was run by Gosnell and served mostly low-income minority women, Seth Williams said.

The grand jury investigation determined that health and licensing officials had received repeated reports about Gosnell's practices for two decades, but taken no action -- even after learning that women died during routine abortions -- the district attorney's statement said.

Two state agencies -- the Department of Health and the Department of State -- have primary oversight over such clinics.

Corbett has asked Secretary of State-nominee Carol Aichele and Secretary of Health-nominee Dr. Eli Avila for an assessment of the situation and policy recommendations by Monday.

"We're being proactive, he's not going to fool around here," Harley said. "If laws need to be changed, then laws need to be changed."

Harley said the governor's pro-life position is irrelevant to the discussion, stressing, "This is about public safety."

The district attorney alleges seven babies born alive in the sixth, seventh and eighth months of their mothers' pregnancies were killed at the Women's Medical Society practice with scissors used to cut their spinal cords.

On Thursday, Gosnell's attorney, William Brennan, stressed that his client should be "presumed innocent." Gosnell is next scheduled to appear in court on February 9.

"No one expected these (charges)," Brennan said. "There should be no rush to judgment, no matter how salacious (they) are."

Besides seven first-degree murder charges related to those infants' deaths, Gosnell is charged with third-degree murder in the death of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar. She died November 20, 2009, after overdosing on anesthetics prescribed by the doctor, Seth Williams said.

Mongar's family filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Gosnell's practice seeking damages, attorney Bernard Smalley said.

Born in Bhutan, Mongar had spent 18 years living in a bamboo hut in a Nepalese refugee camp before going to the United States in July 2009 as part of a humanitarian resettlement program, Smalley said. The mother of four and grandmother of one was 19 weeks into her pregnancy when, after getting a referral from a Washington, D.C., medical clinic, she went to Gosnell's practice.

There, Smalley said, "an unlicensed high school student" -- who got instructions from Gosnell over a cell phone -- gave the woman anesthesia, and there was no equipment to resuscitate her once things went wrong.

"These children have to grow up without their mother, you have a husband who is going to have to go on without his wife," Smalley said of Mongar's family. "There will be justice at the end of the day, but at what price? They've lost a loved one who can never come back."

Smalley told HLN's Jane Velez-Mitchell that he similarly brought a negligence case against Gosnell about 20 years ago, yet he continued to practice.

While a website indicates that he's a graduate of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, Gosnell is not a board-certified obstetrician or gynecologist, DA Williams said.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System, one of the largest health care networks in Philadelphia, said in a statement Thursday that it began alerting authorities in 1999 to look into Gosnell after its doctors saw some of his patients.

"Like all in the medical community, we are shocked at the additional revelations," the statement said, adding that the health system has cooperated fully with investigators. "(We) hope that the courts will act in the best interest of patients."

Law enforcement officers only began focusing on the case while investigating tips that Gosnell had illegally sold thousands of prescriptions for OxyContin and other narcotics to "patients" he never examined, Williams said. This was despite the fact that the doctor was rarely present, instead having untrained, unsupervised workers routinely inject sedatives into women like Mongar, he said.

Besides the murder charges, Gosnell is charged with infanticide, conspiracy, abortion at 24 or more weeks of pregnancy, corpse abuse, corruption of minors, solicitation and other related offenses.

His wife, Pearl Gosnell, 49 -- who also doesn't have a medical license -- also faces charges of providing an abortion at 24 or more weeks and conspiracy, among other charges. Her bail was set Thursday at $1 million.

Bail is $250,000 for Elizabeth Hampton, the doctor's sister-in-law, who is charged with hindering prosecution, perjury and obstruction of justice.

Lynda Williams, Adrienne Moten and Steven Masoof were ordered Thursday held without bail, like Gosnell.

Lynda Williams, 42, who routinely performed illegal operations and gave anesthesia without a license, is charged with third-degree murder in Mongar's death, as well as murder charges for the death of a viable baby, the district attorney said. Moten, 33, who was also unlicensed, is charged with murder in the death of a baby born alive.

Steven Masoof, 48, was arraigned at midnight Thursday charged with murdering two babies born alive, as well as on conspiracy and other counts. The medical school graduate did not have any license or certification.

Other employees arraigned Thursday were:

-- Sherry West, 54, who had her bail set at $2 million for alleged third-degree murder, providing an abortion at 24 or more weeks and other related offenses.

-- Eileen O'Neil, 54, a medical school graduate who allegedly posed as a doctor at the clinic without certification or a license. Her bail is $1 million, after being charged with theft by deception, conspiracy, perjury and false swearing.

-- Maddline Joe, 53, the practice's office manager, who is charged with conspiracy and had her bail set at $250,000

-- Tina Baldwin, 45, whose bail was set at a $150,000 after she was charged with racketeering, conspiracy and corruption of a minor. Among other allegations, she allegedly allowed her 15-year-old daughter to administer anesthesia.

CNN's Sarah Hoye contributed to this report.