It was an eventful week for former abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell — with a jury finding him guilty of murder, his request for life in prison without parole, and a Court of Common Pleas judge sentencing him to three consecutive life terms behind bars.
The announcements followed in succession like dominoes; a guilty verdict on Monday, an offer by the defendant to waive all appellate rights in exchange for life without the possibility of parole on Tuesday and sentencing on Wednesday by Judge Jeffrey Minehart.
District Attorney Seth Williams, who spoke with reporters following Gosnell’s sentencing, characterized Gosnell as a monster and a murderer.
“I have seen a lot of senseless and cruel acts as the District Attorney of Philadelphia, but this case is arguably the most gruesome,” said Williams. “I will not mince words, Kermit Gosnell is a monster. Any doctor who cuts into the necks severing the spinal cords of living, breathing babies, who would survive with proper medical attention, is a murderer and a monster. He knowingly and systematically mistreated female patients for years, which ultimately resulted in the tragic death of Karnamaya Mongar.”
Gosnell, 72, was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for the deaths of three babies, known as Baby A, C and D, who were born alive but were killed when their spinal cords were severed with a pair of scissors, Williams said. Gosnell also received an additional two and a half to five consecutive years for manslaughter charges relating to the death of Karnamaya Mongar. Gosnell was also sentenced to concurrent sentences for the remaining charges against him. The jury of seven women and five men convicted Gosnell of first degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, performing abortions at 24 or more weeks, and related charges.
“This was a groundbreaking criminal prosecution, where this office, the prosecutors and most importantly the 12 jurors found these heinous acts to be willful, intentional, deliberate, premeditated murders,” Williams said. “This doctor’s illegal purposeful actions against the smallest and most vulnerable human beings born alive were properly called murder by our citizens, and we have acted to seal and preserve those verdicts for all time. The defendant was also found guilty of dozens of other charges which demonstrated his pattern of endangering the lives of his patients, mostly poor women.”
But Williams said Gosnell didn’t start his medical career as a murderer or an alleged illegal prescription drug dealer. Gosnell was making $1.8 million a year performing abortions. Gosnell graduated from Central High School in 1959 and went on to Dickinson College and from there to the Thomas Jefferson Medical School where he graduated in 1966. After that he practiced medicine in Philadelphia’s poor communities.
“As one of the jurors noted, at some point after his graduation from Central High School, after attending and graduating from medical school – he’s a highly intelligent person who really at some point was doing good,” Williams said. “But at another point he started compartmentalizing the different things he was doing and separating himself from reality and managed to step away from his Hippocratic Oath.”
During the late 1960’s and 1970’s he became a proponent of abortion rights. It was during that time when an incident occurred that was perhaps a foreshadowing of what he would eventually become. According to the grand jury investigation, Randy Hutchins, the only licensed medical practitioner on Gosnell’s staff, testified before the grand jury that Gosnell told him about what came to be known as the Mother’s Day Massacre. The grand jury’s report references a Philadelphia Inquirer story dated February 25, 2010, in which Gosnell allegedly offered to perform abortions on 15 poor women who were bused into Philadelphia from Chicago on Mother’s Day 1972.
The patients were all in their second trimester of pregnancy. The grand jury’s report states that Gosnell didn’t inform the women that he was going to use an experimental medical device on them called a super coil. The device was developed by an alleged underground abortionist named Harvey Karman. The super coil had never been tested and Hutchins described it as plastic razors in the shape of a sphere. The razors were coated with a gel to keep them closed and inserted into the mother’s womb. Gradually, after several hours, the gel would melt under body temperature, the razors would spring open and cut the fetus, whose remains would be expelled. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer story, Karman tested the device on hundreds of Bangladeshi women who had been raped by Pakistani soldiers. The victims suffered numerous complications.
“Nonetheless, Karman brought his ‘super coil’ to Philadelphia where he found an ally in Gosnell,” the report stated. Quoting the Philadelphia Inquirer article, the grand jury investigation reported that the 15 women suffered serious medical complications. Karman was prosecuted and convicted of practicing medicine without a license. The conviction was later overturned in 1974 when a judge ruled that the late Arlen Specter, who was district attorney at the time, failed to show which women Karman had treated. Gosnell was never prosecuted.
“According to the report Gosnell told Hutchins that he left Pennsylvania for an extended period after the super coil incident, first going to the Bahamas and then New York. Gosnell’s reasoning was that if the State Board of Medicine hadn’t brought any charges against him, he could leave for a while and return with his medical license intact; which was in fact what happened.
The case against Gosnell began as a drug investigation into illegal oxycontin prescriptions, according to Jimmy Wood of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Narcotics Division. Following an extensive investigation by cooperating state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, on February 18, 2010, a raid took place on Gosnell’s Women’s Medical Society, in West Philadelphia. Personnel from the DA’s Office and the FBI uncovered the horrors inside. Law enforcement officers happened upon the medical abuses in the course of investigating tips that the doctor had been illegally selling thousands of prescriptions for oxycontin and other narcotics to “patients” that he never examined. The raid revealed that bags and bottles holding aborted fetuses were scattered throughout the building. Jars containing the severed feet of babies lined a shelf. Furniture and equipment was dusty, broken, and blood-stained. The doctor himself was seldom present. In his absence, untrained and unsupervised workers, (one of them a teenage girl) routinely injected dangerous sedatives into women undergoing illegal late-term abortions.
“When the verdict came in, I got very emotional,” said Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore. “As a woman and a mother, I found the squalor and suffering of the patients beyond belief – beyond belief that it could happen in Philadelphia. I just thank God that we were able to do something about it and that Gosnell will have to pay for what he did.”
The right to vote is a privilege and a duty many Americans have bled and died for.
It is a right that, historically, was denied to African Americans and women, and one that, for African Americans, came at a high price.
When Medgar Evers was murdered on June 12, 1963 by Byron De La Beckwith the motive was the fact that he had been relentlessly working to secure the right to vote for Blacks in the state of Mississippi. Racist politics and discriminatory practices at the polls kept many Blacks from exercising their constitutional rights.
Of course, Evers wasn’t the only victim of white racists who wanted to keep the power of the vote out of the hands of African Americans. Again, in Mississippi, in 1964, FBI agents investigated the murders of four Civil Rights workers who were educating Blacks about how to exercise their right to vote.
But in 2013, the right and responsibility to vote has been coming under greater debate, scrutiny and defense. The United States Supreme Court is debating whether or not key provisions of the Voting Rights Act; specifically Section 5, is necessary and in Pennsylvania and other states, Republican lawmakers have implemented controversial Voter ID laws. Under the cloak of protecting the integrity of elections and preventing voter fraud, Republican lawmakers have successfully pushed through legislation that would require voters to show a state issued picture identification card before they can cast a ballot.
However, although Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID law remains challenged, it was not enforced in the 2012 November Presidential Election, nor will it be enforced in the May 21 Primaries.
“This law is not about protecting against voter fraud, it is about the very real, systematic disenfranchisement of approximately 750,000 individuals, mostly the poor, the elderly, students and racial minorities,” said Democratic State Senator Vincent Hughes in a previous interview. “It is voter suppression, plain and simple and we must not stand for it. Let the people vote. The Voter ID law was about a Republican attempt to win the presidential election in November. The dubious claims of voter fraud made by the Republican majority and Gov. Tom Corbett simply do not exist. That has been proven.”
Opponents of such laws – and they are legion – have successfully fought back; saying such laws are discriminatory. In some states Voter ID laws have been repealed, in others, their implantation has been deferred. In the 2012 Presidential election, Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law was not implemented and although some poll workers did ask some voters to show their official identification, it was not a requirement.
During the upcoming May 21 primary election the Voter ID law will still not be in effect. Again, although poll workers might ask for official identification, the voters don’t have to produce it but first time voters must show either a photo or non-photo identification. Research has shown that voter fraud is an extremely rare occurrence – even in cities like Philadelphia, where emotions over local elections sometime get a little messy.
Investigations conducted by the United States Department of Justice turned up no evidence of voter fraud and failed to show voter fraud was a problem anywhere in the nation. Opponents of Voter ID laws call them voter suppression laws.
“This year, in this country, we have seen more states pass laws to push voters of the polls than in the past 100 years,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous regarding Voter ID laws. “Turning the tide, we have won in Texas and we have even won in the Republican states of Michigan and Virginia. We won in Wisconsin and Minnesota. This is not a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It is an extremist thing. All of us should have the right to vote.”
The Pennsylvania Voter ID law was enacted on May 14, 2012 and required that all Pennsylvania voters produce a valid, state issued identification card; either a PA drivers or non-driver’s license.
Voters could also use a valid passport or student identification. Before Gov. Tom Corbett put pen to paper to sign the measure into law, it met with increasing opposition; so much that the NAACP and ACLU filed a lawsuit to block it from going into effect.
The basis for the lawsuit was that implementing the law was discriminatory and meant to stack the 2012 Presidential Election in favor of Republican Mitt Romney. Opponents stated that the Voter ID law would place unconstitutional burdens on over 100,000 voters in the city. At least 186,000 registered voters in Philadelphia had no form of PennDOT identification, one of the only types of identification acceptable as proof of the right to vote. At least 175,000 registered voters had expired PennDOT identification.
Full implementation of the law was blocked for the General Election and it won’t be in effect for the May 2013 Primary Election.
Opponents of the law pointed out that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – which has also seen increasing questioning regarding whether or not it’s necessary anymore – prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race or color.
Discrimination in voting applies to any voting standard, practice or procedures that result in either the denial or abridgement of the right to vote of any citizen because of their race or color.
Judge Robert Simpson, who finally issued a partial preliminary injunction that allowed voters without proper identification to vote in the 2012 General Election, has yet to rule on the issue any further. A trial on a permanent injunction will begin on July 15, 2013 in Harrisburg.
“The question is why you really had to change the law?” said the Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church. “Did you change the law because you knew that people lack photo ID in poor Black and brown communities? We have to vote because people died for our right to vote. We have to vote because Medgar Evers died for us. We have to vote because hundreds of thousands marched for us.”
After a nine week trial and after deliberating the facts of the case since April 30, the jury deciding the case of former abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell reached a guilty verdict Monday afternoon.
Gosnell, 72, who was accused of performing illegal late-term abortions and was charged in four counts of murder was found guilty of three counts of first degree murder. The District Attorney’s Office, prosecutors and defense attorneys were unable to comment further on the case because of the gag order which remains in force until the penalty phase of the proceedings. Gosnell is scheduled to return to court on Monday, May 20 in courtroom 304, at which time the jury will decide whether Gosnell goes to prison for life or faces the death penalty.
The jury determined he was not guilty on one count of first degree murder. Gosnell was also found guilty of one count of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of Karnamaya Mongar. Mongar died as a result of an overdose of medication while under Gosnell’s care.
Gosnell was facing eight counts of murder, multiple counts of conspiracy and related offenses.
The case against Gosnell started to come to light when authorities executed a search warrant at the Women’s Medical Society, located at 3801 Lancaster Avenue on February 18, 2010. Local, state and federal authorities had been investigating Gosnell for several months and following allegations of illegal prescription drug activity.
What authorities found when they raided the clinic was a dirty and unsanitary facility. According to investigators half-conscious women were laying on dirty recliners, covered with blood stained blankets. There was blood on the floor and the stench of cat urine permeating the atmosphere. A procedure room was compared by one investigator with a bad gas station bathroom.
As authorities continued their search of 3801 Lancaster they found the remains of dead fetuses stored in bio-hazard bags, in milk jugs, cat food containers and orange juice containers. Some of the remains were stored in a refrigerator and others were frozen.
“This guilty verdict is victory for unborn babies around the world—and their mothers,” said Tim Wildmon, president of American Family Association in a press release. “No longer will we look at abortion as just another ‘simple procedure’ for the sake of convenience. In this case, abortion killed a 41-year-old woman with a full life ahead of her. But abortion kills so much more—human spirit, a child’s chance to grow up and flourish, and love that can blossom in family relationships. We hope and pray that this decision today will send a loud and clear message that abortion is wrong and it’s murder.”
Drug kingpin, sister found guilty in firebombing
After deliberating for a little more than a week a federal jury delivered a guilty verdict against convicted drug kingpin Kaboni Savage and his sister, Kidada Savage.
The Savages were found guilty in connection with the firebombing murders of the family of Eugene Coleman, a former associate.
All of the defendants were convicted of conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise. Kaboni Savage, 38, and Kidada Savage, 30, were found guilty of the Coleman murders; 6 counts of murder in aid of racketeering, retaliating against a witness by murder, and of using fire to commit a felony.Savage was also guilty of an additional 7 counts of murder in aid of racketeering. 13 murder counts total. Steven Northington was found guilty of 2 counts of murder in aid of racketeering.
The penalty phase is scheduled to begin May 20, 2013 for Savage and Northington.
Allegedly, between the two of them, Kaboni and Kidada Savage ordered and devised the deaths of the Coleman family. Coleman had been cooperating with federal authorities against Savage and testified against him during his original trial. Before the case went to trial Coleman’s family was murdered in 2004 when their residence was firebombed.
Federal authorities indicted the sister in 2011 of allegedly conspiring with Savage to murder Coleman’s family. On October 4, 2004. Coleman’s mother, Marcella Coleman, 54, his infant son, Damir Jenkins, 15 months, his niece Tameka Nash, 34 and her young daughter, Khadjah Nash, 10 perished in the flames. Also killed were Marcella Coleman’s grandson, Tahj Porchea, 12 and nephew, Sean Rodriguez, 15.
A well-known Philadelphia police officer is at the center of an investigation into whether she violated department policy by working full time for the city and part time in nearby Colwyn Borough.
Rochelle Bilal has been a Philadelphia police officer since 1986 and she also serves the department’s African-American officers as president of the Guardian Civic League. But now her credibility is on the line due to an investigation into whether Bilal, 55, was secretly working as the public safety director of nearby Colwyn Borough while still an active Philadelphia police officer – a violation of department policy.
Last Friday, under a search warrant initiated by the Philadelphia Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division, law enforcement authorities, including federal officers, went into the offices of Colwyn Borough Hall and the Colwyn Borough Police Station. According to the Affidavit of Probable Cause, they were after employment and work records of Borough employees. Internal Affairs believed there was sufficient probable cause to charge Bilal with theft and removed several computers and files from the Borough’s offices.
Bilal denied the allegations.
“It’s groundless. If they’re saying that I was on the city payroll while I was working in Colwyn — that didn’t happen,” Bilal said. “Was I working eight hours as a police officer and working in Colwyn? No. Anything else is for my lawyer to determine.”
According to the affidavit, the facts that support the probable cause came about on April 18, 2013, when Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey requested that Internal Affairs conduct an investigation into unauthorized employment by Bilal. Based on a Philadelphia Daily News article dated April 19, 2013 it was reported that Bilal was secretly employed as the Borough’s public safety director while still employed as a full-time Philadelphia police officer.
“Police Officer Rochelle Bilal indicated in the article that she had been working for Colwyn Borough since September 2012 while still employed with the Philadelphia Police Department,” the affidavit said. The document goes on to state that Chief Inspector Carl Holmes stated that while he was assigned as the inspector of the Narcotics Bureau, Bilal submitted a request to work as a consultant for Colwyn. The request was made in late September or early October, according to Holmes and he denied it. The employment position in Colwyn was prohibited by Directive 121 which governs outside employment by PPD officers and Holmes stated that he personally discussed the matter with Bilal.
“At this point I don’t know if the allegations are true or not, we’re trying to determine that” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “I’ve got Internal Affairs looking into it and my understanding is that she’s retired. The question is whether or not she was still on our payroll while she was in Colwyn. Right now I’m not in a position to definitively say if she was or not.”
As indicated in the affidavit, Bilal made a similar request to Inspector Kevin Hall when he was assigned to the Narcotics Bureau and he also refused. Mayor Daniel Rutland of Colwyn stated that Bilal was hired as public safety director in September 2012 and alleges he observed Bilal working two to three times a week at the Colwyn Borough Police Station. When interviewed, he produced a financial printout showing Bilal was paid $732.49 for work she allegedly performed in January 2013. Last month at a meeting in Colwyn’s Borough Town Hall, Bilal was introduced as the public safety director.
Bilal’s attorney, Brian Puricelli said there’s no evidence to support the allegations against his client.
“I don’t know what they’re trying to do here. I haven’t seen any evidence of any wrongdoing and I’ve thoroughly read the search warrant,” Puricelli said. “If she worked there while on vacation from the department that’s not a violation. I would like to see what specific days they’re saying she worked as Colwyn’s public safety director.”
A new independent report released on Wednesday indicates what many critics and concerned citizens of the city’s actual value initiative already believed – that AVI isn’t accurate, and unfairly affects poorer neighborhoods.
City Controller Alan Butkovitz said that was not the intent of AVI.
“Look at it like this; AVI was sold on the belief that property owners in poorer neighborhoods would get a tax break and wealthier homeowners would see an increase — and according to the report, that isn’t happening,” Butkovitz said.
The report, ‘A Sales Ratio Study of the 2013 Certified & 2014 Proposed Real Estate Assessments’ was conducted by Robert Strauss, professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. It was released by Butkovitz on Wednesday before City Council and in short, alleges that the controversial actual value initiative did not reflect fairness or uniformity and didn’t improve accuracyof property assessments, as it was supposedly intended to do.
“This report clearly shows that the OPA (Office of Property Assessment) full value reassessment is actually more inaccurate than assessments under the current system,” said Butkovitz. “AVI was supposed to do just the opposite – bring property values closer to their market values. This review parallels the very concerns that were raised by numerous people across the city. I felt it was my office’s responsibility to evaluate the data to determine whether the citywide reassessment was fair and accurate.”
Strauss, who met with Tribune reporters inside the Lincoln Library at the Union League, said his findings show that residential property values actually rose from 82 percent for 2013 to 112 percent proposed for 2014 under AVI.His research also found significant evidence that more expensive taxable properties were assessed at lower levels than less expensive ones. In other words, the study shows that as zip codes become more African American – such as 19104 — the median level of residential assessment rises. As zip code areas become more Caucasian and wealthier, the median level of residential assessment falls.
“This is a statistically significant result for residential properties,” Strauss said. “This should be real cause for concern. These results raise real, serious important questions for any citizen of Philadelphia, and numbers don’t lie. There are lots of reasons to get this right – in the short run, and the long run. But just as important is that wherever this kind of property reassessment has been undertaken, it’s the poorer neighborhoods that show a sharp increase. This is about having trust and confidence in the government and results that are reflected in this study could cause a loss of credibility on the government’s part and a loss of trust.”
Strauss’ study also showed that information was missing on critical property characteristics including:
• 97 percent had no floor plan data, • 30 percent of residential properties are coded as having zero stories or the number of stories is missing, • 26 percent were missing the total number of rooms in properties
“This review parallels the very concerns that were raised by numerous people across the city,” said Butkovitz. ” A reassessment that relies primarily on statistical modeling is only as good as the data about property characteristics that are used to predict the 2014 assessed values. Yes, people have looked at smaller samples – they’ve looked at their own blocks, but this was a city wide statistical analysis.”
Mark McDonald, spokesman for the Nutter administration, said that in the mayor’s opinion, the study is not credible. He said Strauss never spoke to the Office of Property Assessment leadership and that OPA’s citywide property assessment was the most accurate in the city’s history. He noted Butkovitz is running for reelection and this report comes out just days before the May primary.
“We’re not asserting that the OPA’s property assessments were perfect; that’s why there was a first-level review process if a resident thought it was wrong. There are over 400,000 residential properties in Philadelphia, and so far we’ve received less than 50,000 complaints,” McDonald said. “Strauss took the data he received from OPA and then proceeded to manipulate the data for a controller who, months earlier, was criticizing OPA. We think the study parrots the controller’s views. In the 3rd District, for example, some property taxes will remain the same and others will be lower. The property assessments might go up, but that doesn’t necessarily mean taxes will go up.”