PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Potential jurors are being asked their views on abortion and the death penalty in a Philadelphia murder case that promises to be painfully graphic for almost anyone chosen.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, is charged with killing a 41-year-old woman during a botched abortion at his West Philadelphia medical clinic in 2009. He is also charged in the deaths of seven babies allegedly born alive before their spines were severed with scissors.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in the infant deaths.
Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey P. Minehart treaded lightly, but directly, as he questioned potential jurors about their views this week. Those who expressed religious, ethical or moral qualms about abortion or the death penalty were promptly dismissed.
That left lawyers on both sides to question the surviving panel members individually, and to dig a little deeper. Prosecutors asked if they were sure they could return a death penalty verdict against the aging doctor if the facts warrant it. Defense lawyers wanted to know if jurors could be fair to Gosnell and co-defendant Eileen O'Neill, given the age of the infants.
And both sides asked if the jurors would be biased against trial witnesses who said they had had abortions.
"I think a woman has the right to choose, really. Whatever they decide," a female postal worker said.
Despite that answer, she was ultimately dismissed.
A city water department worker with two daughters became the fourth juror chosen. The man had gone to a Catholic high school but said he was no longer a practicing Catholic and did not oppose legal abortions, as the church does.
Other potential jurors cited their Roman Catholic faith in concluding they could not be impartial.
By the end of the day Tuesday, six jurors had been selected. Opening statements are expected sometime next week.
O'Neill, a medical school graduate who worked at Gosnell's clinic, is charged with practicing medicine without a license. Eight other co-defendants charged in the wake of a 2011 grand jury report pleaded guilty to various charges, three of them to third-degree murder.
The grand jury report described filthy, macabre conditions at Gosnell's Women's Medical Center, including shelves lined with fetal body parts kept in jars.
Gosnell has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, third-degree murder and other charges. He insists that he helped many vulnerable women and teens get medical care, including later-stage abortions.
Gosnell also faces a later federal court trial on illegal prescription drug charges. Prosecutors say he ran a profitable "pill mill" in another part of the clinic.