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Abortion doctor convicted of murder waives appeal, avoids death sentence

From Sarah Hoye, CNN
updated 6:35 AM EDT, Wed May 15, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The convicted doctor is at peace knowing now "what his fate is," his lawyer says
  • Kermit Gosnell, 72, was convicted Monday on three counts of first-degree murder
  • He gives up his right to appeal in exchange for avoiding a possible death sentence
  • A jury also found him guilty of involuntary manslaughter

Philadelphia (CNN) -- A Philadelphia abortion provider found guilty of first-degree murder has agreed give up his right to appeal in exchange for avoiding a possible death sentence, Philadelphia's district attorney's office announced Tuesday.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, was convicted Monday on three counts of murder for killing babies by cutting their spinal cords with scissors.

The next step in the case was to have been the penalty phase, when jurors would have weighed whether to give Gosnell a death sentence.

The arrangement erases a need for that phase.

"Like any deal, there's a give and take on each side. The Commonwealth (of Pennsylvania) took away the death penalty and Dr. Gosnell gave up his right to appeal," said defense attorney Jack McMahon.

"A big factor for Dr. Gosnell was his family. They've been conspicuously absent, and that's been intentional because of the media focus and whatnot. He has some younger children in high school ... and bringing them all forward for a penalty phase is something that troubled him."

According to a statement from the office of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, Gosnell "agreed to waive all of his appellate rights in exchange for life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of the death penalty." He was "immediately sentenced" for the deaths of two babies.

He will be sentenced on remaining charges, including the death of the third baby, on Wednesday, the statement said.

Abortion provider found guilty of murder
Prosecutor was sobbing during verdict
Abortion doctor's response to verdict
Residents of Gosnell's neighborhood talk

A jury also found Gosnell guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the case of 41-year-old Karnamaya Mongar, who died of an anesthetic overdose during a second-trimester abortion at Gosnell's West Philadelphia clinic.

Additionally, Gosnell, who is not a board-certified obstetrician or gynecologist, was found guilty of 21 counts of abortion of the unborn, 24 weeks or older.

In Pennsylvania, abortions past 24 weeks are illegal unless the health of the mother is at stake.

O. Carter Snead, a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said that he wasn't surprised by the deal.

"From a pragmatic perspective, it can take decades for a defendant to exhaust all of his appeals from a sentence of death. Given his advanced age, it is likely that Gosnell would die on death row before this process runs its course," he said.

"More importantly, in my judgment, principles of justice are served by a sentence of life without parole in this case. There has been quite enough bloodshed because of this evil man's actions."

The doctor's lawyer said his client is at peace now that "he knows what his fate is."

"I think, once there is a finality ... there's a certain sereneness about that," McMahon said.

Gosnell's co-defendant, Eileen O'Neill, 56, was found guilty of conspiracy to operate a corrupt organization and two counts of theft by deception for operating without a license to practice medicine. O'Neill, a medical school graduate, was not charged with performing illegal abortions.

Both pleaded not guilty.

Eight people involved in Gosnell's clinic, called the Women's Medical Society, earlier pleaded guilty to various charges. Four of them pleaded guilty to murder.

A grand jury report from 2011 says the "people who ran this sham medical practice included no doctors other than Gosnell himself, and not even a single nurse," yet they still made diagnoses, performed procedures and administered drugs.

Defense attorney McMahon, in an impassioned, 2½-hour closing argument, said that none of the infants was killed; rather, he said, they were already dead as a result of Gosnell administering the drug Digoxin, which can cause abortion.

Gosnell also was accused of reusing unsanitary instruments; performing procedures in filthy rooms, including some in which litter boxes and animals allegedly were present at the time; and allowing unlicensed employees -- including a teenage high school student -- to perform operations and administer anesthesia.

The remains of aborted fetuses were stored in water jugs, pet food containers and a freezer at the clinic, the city's chief medical examiner Sam Gulino testified.

Former employee Kareema Cross said Gosnell regularly performed illegal late-term abortions that he routinely recorded as "24.5 weeks."

McMahon, who called no witnesses, accused prosecutors of "the most extraordinary hype and exaggeration in the history of the criminal justice system," even adding that they are "elitist" and "racist."

Gosnell has been accused by authorities of preying on low-income, minority women. McMahon argued that Gosnell offered access to health care for people who were poor and without health insurance.

The doctor was first charged in January 2011.

The case has drawn national attention and sharp criticism from anti-abortion activists.

Mother shares regrets amid Pennsylvania abortion trial

Gosnell horror fuels fight for abortion laws

CNN's Sunny Hostin, Catherine E. Shoichet, Josh Levs, David Ariosto, Jason Hanna and Dana Ford contributed to this report.

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