PHILADELPHIA — A Pennsylvania judge threw out three of seven murder charges Tuesday against a Philadelphia doctor charged with killing viable fetuses while performing abortions.
Judge Jeffrey Minehart of the Court of Common Pleas granted motions for acquittal on the charges against Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who ran the Women's Medical Center, a West Philadelphia abortion clinic.
Minehart also granted a motion for acquittal in five charges of abuse of a corpse against Gosnell, who, according to prosecutors, killed fetuses that were alive after they were aborted by plunging scissors into their necks. Gosnell, 72, was also acquitted on one charge of infanticide.
The judge gave no reason for his decision, which came on the fifth week of the trial and preceded the start of defense arguments, which had been scheduled to begin Tuesday afternoon, but are now expected to start today.
The trial has become a cause celebre for some antiabortion activists, a few of whom were seated in the courtroom Tuesday. Before the judge announced his decision, an officer of the court instructed those present to remain silent.
Bryan Kemper, youth outreach director for Priests for Life, an antiabortion group, said he was "obviously frustrated" with the judge's decision. Kemper, who traveled from Ohio to attend the trial, said he was convinced that Gosnell had deliberately killed live fetuses.
"It makes no sense to me that he could snip the back of the neck of a baby that was not alive," Kemper said during a break in the hearing.
Gosnell still faces four charges of first-degree murder and one of third-degree murder in connection with the death of a patient at the Women's Medical Center. If found guilty on the remaining charges, he could face the death penalty.
Eight workers at Gosnell's clinic have pleaded guilty in the case, including three to third-degree murder.
Gosnell's lawyer, Jack McMahon, argued that none of the seven fetuses his client is accused of killing were alive when they were removed from their mothers because they had been given a drug that killed them in utero. Therefore, there was no validity to the charges of murder, infanticide or abuse of a corpse, he said.
"There is not one piece of real scientific evidence that any one was born alive," McMahon told the judge, who heard the acquittal motions without a jury present.
The defense motions to dismiss the various counts offered a preview of closing arguments, which could come within the next week.