In this photo from March 8, 2010, Dr. Kermit Gosnell is seen during an interview with the Philadelphia Daily News at his attorney's office in Philadelphia. / Yong Kim, Philadelphia Daily News
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A medical assistant told a jury Tuesday that she snipped the spines of at least 10 babies during unorthodox abortions at a Philadelphia clinic. And she said the doctor and another employee did the same to terminate pregnancies.
Adrienne Moton's testimony came in the capital murder trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the clinic owner, who is on trial in the deaths of a patient and seven babies. Prosecutors accuse him of killing late-term, viable babies after they were delivered alive, in violation of state abortion laws.
Gosnell's lawyer denies the murder charge and disputes that any babies were born alive. He also challenges the gestational age of the aborted fetuses, calling them inexact estimates.
Moton, the first employee to testify, sobbed as she recalled taking a cellphone photograph of one baby left in her work area. She thought he could have survived, given his size and pinkish color. She had measured him at nearly 30 weeks.
"The aunt felt it was just best for her (the mother's) future," Moton testified.
Gosnell later joked that the baby was so big he could have walked to the bus stop, she said.
Jurors saw Moton's photograph on a large screen in the courtroom, which took on a bizarre look Tuesday as she testified near a hospital bed with stirrups and other aging obstetric equipment. Denied the chance to bring jurors to the shuttered inner-city clinic, prosecutors are instead recreating a patient room in court.
Moton, 35, sobbed as she described her work at the clinic. Because of problems at home, she had moved in with Gosnell and his third wife during high school, and she went to work for him from 2005 to 2008. She earned about $10 an hour, off the books, to administer drugs, perform sonograms, help with abortions and dispose of fetal remains. Workers got $20 bonuses for second-term abortions on Saturdays, when a half-dozen were sometimes performed.
She once had to kill a baby delivered in a toilet, cutting its neck with scissors, she said. Asked if she knew that was wrong, she said, "At first I didn't."
Abortions are typically performed in utero. In Pennsylvania, abortions cannot legally be performed after the 24th week of pregnancy.
Moton has pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, which carries a 20- to 40-year term, as well as conspiracy and other charges. She has been in prison since early 2011, when Philadelphia prosecutors released the harrowing grand jury report on Gosnell's Women's Medical Center and arrested the doctor, wife Pearl and eight current or former employees. Most of them are expected to testify.
Women and teens came from across the mid-Atlantic, often seeking late-term abortions, Moton said. She recalled one young woman from Puerto Rico who did not speak English and appeared to be 27 weeks pregnant.
One patient, a 41-year-old refugee, died after an overdose of drugs allegedly given to her during a 2009 abortion.
Defense lawyer Jack McMahon told jurors in opening statements Monday that Gosnell, now 72, returned to the impoverished neighborhood after medical school when he could have struck it rich in the suburbs. He called the prosecution of his client, who is black, "a lynching."
But prosecutors believe Gosnell made plenty of money over a 30-year career using cheap, untrained staff, outdated medicines and barbaric techniques to perform abortions on desperate, low-income women.
And they say he made even more on the side running a "pill mill," where addicts and drug dealers could get prescriptions for potent painkillers. Authorities found $250,000 in cash at his home when they searched it in 2010.
McMahon is set to cross-examine Moton on Tuesday afternoon.
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