Thursday, October 23, 2014
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Judge doesn’t buy abortion doc’s poverty plea

A file photo of Kermit Gosnell, who is charged with murder related to his work at his abortion clinic in West Philadelphia.  He asked a judge today for a public defender and said he was destitute.  The judge did not grant the request.  (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)
A file photo of Kermit Gosnell, who is charged with murder related to his work at his abortion clinic in West Philadelphia. He asked a judge today for a public defender and said he was destitute. The judge did not grant the request. (Yong Kim / Staff Photographer)

Though public records show they jointly or individually own a total of 17 properties in four states, and a boat, accused West Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell and his wife Pearl told a city judge this morning they were "close to destitute" and could not afford lawyers.

The Gosnells - and eight employees of their clinic at 3801 Lancaster Ave. - were all charged by the District Attorney's office last month in connection with the deaths of a patient and seven newborn infants at a clinic that authorities allege provided illegal late-term abortions to poor women.

Common Pleas Court Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes ordered the couple brought to court from their prison cells because they do not have lawyers and face a hearing Wednesday on a motion by the prosecution to expedite the case against them by bypassing a preliminary hearing.

Hughes spent almost 30 minutes verbally sparring with Gosnell, 69, a tall, ramrod-postured man with an almost courtly mien, dressed in a pale green dress shirt and blue jeans.

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  • "It's nice to meet you, your honor, although I'm not sure you feel it's nice because of the conditions that you found," Gosnell said, introducing himself at the start of the hearing.

    Gosnell seemed surprised when Hughes explained that he did not qualify for a public defender because he has assets he can liquidate.

    "I asked for a public defender but I'm not eligible because I have assets?" he asked.

    Gosnell then turned to scan the courtroom and spotted CBS3 news reporter Walt Hunter in the audience.

    "Hi Walt," Gosnell said, smiling and waving.

    "This is not a social event," interrupted Hughes. "You need to focus. You don't get to speak to people you know."

    Though Gosnell, and then his wife, Pearl, 50, contested the list of properties submitted by Assistant District Attorneys Joanne Pescatore and Christine Wechsler, the judge noted that they still wound up admitting to a half-dozen properties between them.

    Gosnell said he did not want to liquidate properties because he had to provide for his 13-year-old daughter.

    "Your first priority is to get a lawyer," Hughes replied, noting that he had four adult children, two of whom are professionals and who could care for their younger sister.

    "My children have all done very well," Gosnell noted, "but one is in Switzerland."

    Hughes stressed to Gosnell the importance of getting a lawyer. The judge said the District Attorney's office will decide later this month whether they will seek the death penalty in the case.

    Pearl Gosnell, dressed in a black top and jeans, seemed on the verge of tears. She initially objected that she could not afford a lawyer but then went silent when the judge cited her property holdings.

    "You are not eligible, you must hire an attorney," Hughes said, stressing each word.

    Last February federal drug agents and state authorities raided Gosnell's clinic in probe of allegations that he was illegally writing prescriptions for controlled pharmaceuticals. Instead, agents found unsanitary conditions that included bags and bottles of aborted fetuses and body parts, alleged evidence of illegal abortions performed there.

    Gosnell's lawyer at the time, William J. Brennan, agreed to represent Gosnell through the subsequent 10-month county grand jury probe but not beyond.

     


    Contact Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

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    Joseph A. Slobodzian INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
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