May 16, 2013
By MARYCLAIRE DALE
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Dr. Kermit Gosnell proved a serene but solitary figure in the courtroom during his long murder trial, in contrast to the chaotic life he built as an inner-city doctor, abortion provider and father of six.
Jurors who convicted him this week of killing three babies born alive at his run-down West Philadelphia clinic thought he began his career with good intentions, but then lost his way.
“He started out as a good, practicing doctor. But eventually, it just became a money-generating machine,” juror Joseph Carroll said Wednesday, after Gosnell was sentenced to life in prison without parole. “Most of us felt it probably came down to a greed factor.”
Gosnell, 72, had been the rare black student from his working-class neighborhood to go to medical school. He became an early proponent of therapeutic abortions in the 1960s and ’70s, and returned from a stint in New York City to open up a clinic in the impoverished Mantua neighborhood, near where he had grown up as the only child of a gas station operator and government clerk.
His Women’s Medical Center treated the poor, immigrants and teens, offering free basic medical care to elderly people, many of whom were seen in recent years by unlicensed doctor Eileen O’Neill.
But Gosnell made millions performing abortions, charging up to $2,500 or more in cash if women were in their second or third trimester. District Attorney R. Seth Williams said Wednesday that Gosnell put women through labor, then killed their babies, “because it’s cheaper to do that.”
“We had no evidence that these patients were told that ... after the baby is born, and the baby’s alive and squirming and kicking and crying, I’m going to sever its spinal cord.”
Former staffers testified that Gosnell once performed mostly first-term procedures, perhaps 20 a night, along with a few later-term procedures. But that ratio reversed itself from 2000 to 2010, as Gosnell increasingly attracted desperate women who were further along.
According to prosecutors, he routinely performed abortions after the 20-week limit in Delaware, where he also worked, and the 24-week limit in Pennsylvania. And he did the late-term surgical procedures in his clinic, while they were more typically done in hospitals.
Gosnell by then was also attracting lawsuits from women who said they were injured during botched abortions at his clinic. One woman said he left fetal remains inside her, another sued over a perforated uterus, and a trial witness said she spent two weeks in a hospital with sepsis after an abortion at age 17 that allegedly took place when she was nearly 30 weeks, or more than seven months, pregnant. Stunned clinic workers took cellphone photos of that baby boy, photos that provided key evidence in the murder charge over “Baby A.”
Workers testified that the West Philadelphia clinic deteriorated over the decade they worked there, as Gosnell cut costs by reusing disposable medical equipment that spread venereal disease, and relied on unlicensed doctors and untrained staff to perform skilled medical care. The jury found that contributed to the overdose death of a 41-year-old patient who was sedated repeatedly by medical assistants.
“This is Philadelphia in the year 2013. This isn’t some third-world country,” Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said in opening statements in March.
But defense lawyer Jack McMahon countered: “Every time a doctor loses a patient, it isn’t murder.”
Meanwhile, lines of unsavory patients were lining up to get prescriptions from Gosnell for OxyContin and other frequently abused painkillers. That side of Gosnell’s practice led to the 2010 clinic raid, when the FBI stumbled on abortion practices that would come to be termed “a house of horrors” in a 2011 grand jury report.
McMahon blanched at that description, saying prosecutors and the press have “lynched” his client by exaggerating the facts.
“To call him a monster, maybe it’s convenient for the press, but that is not accurate,” McMahon said Wednesday. “He never intended to kill a live baby.”
Gosnell has been married three times, the third time to a cosmetician who grew up in foster care and came to work at the clinic. Pearl Gosnell has pleaded guilty to helping perform third-term abortions but is living at their home near the clinic, with the couple’s teenage daughter, Gosnell’s youngest child, while awaiting sentencing. Gosnell’s adult children include an actor and college professor. No relatives or friends have come to court for him.
“That was intentional,” said McMahon, who said Gosnell wanted to spare his children the notoriety of the case. “He talked to them numerous times on the telephone and had their support all the way, but just (not) ... in the courtroom because of the obvious.”
The FBI found $250,000 cash stashed in the teenager’s bedroom at Gosnell's home, one of several properties he acquired during his 40-year career. He also owned rental properties and a beach house in Brigantine, N.J., the latter of which was sold to pay his legal bills.
“He always led me to believe he was a poor, struggling urban physician and surgeon. I thought he was hurting financially,” testified former clinic worker Stephen Massof, an unlicensed doctor who pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree murder for cutting babies after they were born alive.
With his fate sealed, Gosnell plans to plead guilty to federal drug charges related to his high-volume pain medicine practice, McMahon said. And his client hopes people will someday understand his motives. McMahon has noted that his client didn't pluck women off the street and force them to have abortions.
“He knew that he wanted to air out certain things, and he had a shot at it and he got a good shot at it,” McMahon said. “Five of the verdicts were not guilty. That's a victory that is kind of hollow, but nonetheless that’s a victory in his mind.”
May 16, 2013
By TOM HAYS
NEW YORK (AP) — A judge on Wednesday threw out manslaughter charges against a New York Police Department officer accused of killing an unarmed man at his home as his grandmother stood nearby in a ruling that prompted a courtroom outburst by the victim’s mother and a vow by prosecutors to still pursue the case.
Constance Malcolm cursed and screamed, “They killed my child!” as it became clear that the judge was about to rule in favor of Officer Richard Haste. Court officers immediately removed her.
When order was restored, Judge Steven Barrett told spectators, “I regret that there are people who are hurt by this,” but he insisted that a flawed grand jury presentation by prosecutors left him no choice.
As Haste left the courtroom, protesters yelled, “Murderer!” The officer did not speak to reporters.
Haste had been charged in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Ramarley Graham during a police operation targeting street corner drug dealing in the Bronx. He and other officers chased Graham into his family’s apartment, where the teen was shot at close range.
The victim was struck in the upper chest and collapsed inside a bathroom as his grandmother and younger brother stood nearby. No gun was recovered.
The judge ruled Wednesday that prosecutors, in giving instructions to grand jurors, had improperly left the impression the jury shouldn’t consider testimony by other officers that they radioed Haste in advance to warn him that they thought Graham had a pistol.
Haste testified in the grand jury that the radio transmissions convinced him Graham was armed and dangerous when he shot him in the chest. Jurors also heard evidence that Haste yelled, “Gun! Gun!” as a warning to other officers before opening fire.
“In effect, the grand jury was told communications of other officers were not relevant,” the judge said. “With no great pleasure, I’m obliged in this case to dismiss the charges.”
The judge stressed that he didn’t believe prosecutors deliberately misled the grand jury and he wouldn’t bar them from seeking another indictment.
Prosecutors said in a statement that they would appeal the decision or present the case again to the grand jury.
“It cannot be said more forcefully that we disagree with the court,” the statement said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who has worked with Graham’s family, called the judge’s decision “an outrageous miscarriage of justice and an insult to the family and supporters of Ramarley Graham.” Graham’s parents called for street protests.
But Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said the judge’s ruling was the right one.
“We believe the judge made a difficult but correct decision,” Lynch said.
May 16, 2013
By MICHELLE RINDELS
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A self-described pimp accused of killing three people in a shooting and fiery crash on the Las Vegas Strip pleaded not guilty to 11 counts against him Monday, after initially telling the judge he wanted to plead guilty.
Ammar Asim Faruq Harris, 27, was arraigned in Clark County District Court on murder, attempted murder and shooting charges filed after the Feb. 21 crash.
After Harris indicated he wanted to plead guilty and dismiss his lawyer, the attorney said that would be a mistake and suggested Harris didn't understand the gravity of that decision. After a break, Harris returned to court and entered not guilty pleas.
Harris’ lawyer, Special Public Defender David Schieck, wouldn't elaborate on what might have changed Harris’ mind but said there were defenses for some of the allegations.
Harris is accused of shooting from a black Range Rover into a Maserati sports car that then slammed into a taxi that burst into flames.
Taxi driver Michael Boldon, 62, of Las Vegas, and passenger Sandra Sutton-Wasmund, 48, of Maple Valley, Wash., were killed. The Maserati driver, Kenneth Cherry Jr., 27, died at a hospital.
Another man in the Maserati suffered gunshot wounds and survived. Five other people in several other vehicles suffered less serious injuries.
Police said Harris and Cherry had exchanged angry words at a casino valet stand before speeding up the Strip. Investigators found no gun in the Maserati and no evidence that Cherry returned fire before crashing.
Harris was arrested a week later in Los Angeles.
A trial is set to begin Sept. 9. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty — something that Boldon's brother supports.
“My brother is dead, and I don’t think this man deserves to breathe,” Tehran Boldon said after Harris appeared.
Harris also pleaded not guilty Monday to felony robbery and sex assault charges in a 2010 rape case that had been dismissed. A July court date is set in that case, which could increase the severity of his sentence in the murder case.
May 16, 2013
By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER
WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is investigating potential civil rights violations at the Internal Revenue Service after the agency acknowledged the agency had singled out conservative groups for extra scrutiny, Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday.
Other potential crimes include making false statements to authorities and violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in some partisan political activities, Holder said.
“I can assure you and the American people that we will take a dispassionate view of this,” Holder told the House Judiciary Committee at a hearing Wednesday. “This will not be about parties, this will not be about ideological persuasions. Anybody who has broken the law will be held accountable.”
But, Holder said, it will take time to determine if there was criminal wrongdoing.
Holder announced a day earlier that the Justice department had opened a criminal investigation, joining three committees in Congress that are looking into the matter. As the investigation widened, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters he had this question: “Who’s going to jail over this scandal?”
“There are laws in place to prevent this type of abuse. Someone made a conscious decision to harass and to hold up these requests for tax exempt status,” Boehner said. “I think we need to know who they are and whether they violated the law. Clearly someone violated the law.”
Legal experts, however, said it could be difficult to prove that IRS officials or employees knowingly violated the civil rights of conservative groups. If there is a violation, the experts said, investigators can sometimes prove more easily that officials made false statements or obstructed justice in some other way.
“I think it’s doubtful that any of these knuckleheads who engaged in the conduct that gave rise to this controversy knowingly believed that they were violating the law,” said David H. Laufman, a former Justice Department lawyer. “But that remains to be seen. That’s what investigations are for.”
“It’s more likely than not that,” he said, “the conduct at issue here may constitute violations of IRS rules or standards or protocols or procedures but may fall short of what is necessary to constitute a criminal offense.”
Even if IRS agents broke criminal laws in targeting conservative groups, investigators may have to prove they knowingly did it, a high standard, said Brian Galle, a former Justice Department lawyer who teaches law at Boston College.
“If the reason they were pursuing them was in order to punish them for their political activity, there might be a First Amendment concern there,” Galle said. “On the other hand, if the reason that they were looking for tea party groups is because there had been press reports about this new group, the tea party, who was aimed primarily at getting more conservative people elected to office, then they were just responding to the evidence. It really depends on what their motives were.”
Wednesday’s hearing was the first of several in Congress that will focus on the issue.
The House Oversight Committee announced Wednesday that it would hold a hearing May 22, featuring Lois Lerner, the head of the IRS division that oversees tax exempt organizations, and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman, whose five-year term ended in November.
The Senate Finance Committee announced a hearing for next Tuesday.
The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing Friday, featuring the acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller, and the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, J. Russell George.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Lerner misled him and his staff when they asked her about complaints from conservative groups that they were being harassed by the IRS.
“I know for a fact, Lois Lerner lied to me, she lied to our personal staff, she lied to committee staff, she lied in correspondence,” Jordan said.
Lerner learned about the targeting on June 29, 2011, according to a report Tuesday by the inspector general.
The report said ineffective management at the IRS allowed agents to improperly target tea party and other conservative groups for more than 18 months.
The report said that while their applications for tax exempt status languished, tea party groups were asked a host of inappropriate questions, including: Who are your donors? What are the political affiliations of officers? What issues are important to the organization, and what are your positions on those issues? Will any officers in the group run for public office? Where do you work?
The IRS started targeting groups with “Tea Party,” “Patriots” or “9/12 Project” in their applications for tax exempt status in March 2010, the inspector general’s report said. By August 2010, it was part of the written criteria used to flag groups for additional scrutiny.
Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said Wednesday that no union employees had been disciplined, as far as she knew. She noted that the IG's report said agents were not motivated by political bias.
Kelley told The Associated Press that low-level workers could not have specifically targeted conservative groups for long without the approval of supervisors. However, she noted, there are many levels of supervisors at the IRS.
“No processes or procedures or anything like that would ever be done just by front-line employees without any management involvement,” Kelley said. “That’s just not how it operates.”
Also Wednesday, the IRS released a list of 179 advocacy groups that had been approved for tax-exempt status as of May 9. The list includes both seemingly conservative and progressive groups, including the Nevada County Tea Party Patriots and Progress Texas. A total of 34 included the words “tea party” in their names.
“Progress Texas and the tea party strongly disagree on the role of government,” said a statement from Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas. “Yet, when we applied for tax-exempt status, Progress Texas received the same type of additional scrutiny that tea party groups are complaining about.”
The IRS also pushed back against one aspect of the inspector general’s report. The report said the chief counsel was briefed about conservative groups being targeted on Aug. 4, 2011.
The IRS, however, said in a statement that the meeting involved staff attorneys “several layers below” chief counsel William Wilkins.
“Wilkins did not learn about specific groups being singled out by name until earlier this year,” the IRS statement said.