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The trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell began yesterday in Philadelphia. Gosnell is accused of eight counts of murder — fetuses, who died at a clinic that has been described as a "house of horrors." If the descriptions provided by the prosecution are accurate, that's an understatement.

For decades, Gosnell ran the West Philadelphia Women's Medical Society, performing medical services including abortion. In 2011, police investigating the illegal sale of prescriptions entered the facility and allegedly discovered a gruesome scene. At the time, ABC Philadelphia quoted District Attorney Seth Williams: "There were bags, and bottles holding aborted fetuses were scattered throughout the building. There were jars lining shelves with severed feet that he kept for no medical purpose."

Worse were the alleged practices of Gosnell and his staff: late-term abortions conducted with minimal anesthesia, high-school students working in the operating room. After his arrest, one former patient described her horrifying experience at the clinic:

Reid said she planned to tell Gosnell that she didn't want the abortion and was going to sneak out of the clinic.

"When I said no, the doctor got upset and he ended up taking my clothes off, hitting me, my legs were tied to the stirrups," Reid said.

The 87-pound teen struggled with the man for 30 minutes, fighting him alone in the room, she said.

GosnellDetails of some of the abortions are too gruesome to share, but involve using scissors to complete terminations outside of the mother's body. Most of the charges Gosnell faces hinge on that practice. If the fetuses were viable, Gosnell's practice of terminating them violates Pennsylvania's murder statute. The eighth murder charge relates to a woman who allegedly died due to an improper application of painkillers.

The New York Times reports on the first day of the trial:

The defense lawyer said that there was scientific evidence on the viability of only two of the seven fetuses Dr. Gosnell is accused of killing, and that claims that the other five were viable were based on verbal reports by clinic staff members that the fetuses had been moving after they were aborted.

When one of the best defenses you have at your murder trial is that your victims wouldn't have survived anyway, it's safe to assume that you have an uphill climb.

But that wasn't the defense's only argument. Introducing more political complexity to a case already rife with it, the defense argued that Gosnell is being unfairly targeted because he — like most of his clients — is black. ABC News outlines what Gosnell's attorney called an "elitist, racist prosecution."

[Gosnell's attorney Jack] McMahon said city officials are applying "Mayo Clinic" standards to Gosnell's inner-city office in West Philadelphia.

"This is a targeted, elitist and racist prosecution of a doctor who's done nothing but give (back) to the poor and the people of West Philadelphia," the fiery McMahon insisted to the predominantly black jury, as Gosnell sat serenely taking notes. "It's a prosecutorial lynching of Dr. Kermit Gosnell."

The defense argues that Gosnell was performing a public good; prosecutors suggest that the doctor earned millions over three decades. $240,000 in cash was found in his home at the time of his arrest.

Eight employees and his wife were also arrested during the initial raid on the clinic. His wife plead guilty in December 2011; most of the rest of the staff have as well, including three who admitted to third-degree murder charges. Nor did the state escape blame. The grand jury investigating Gosnell harshly criticized state inspectors' on-going failure to discover the problems at the clinic, calling the "complete regulatory collapse … inexcusable."

If the jury convicts Gosnell, he faces the death penalty.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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