An abortion doctor convicted of killing three babies born alive at his rogue clinic has dodged a possible death sentence in a hasty post-verdict deal with prosecutors.
Dr Kermit Gosnell, 72, waived his right to appeal in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. Gosnell was convicted on Monday of first-degree murder in a case that became a flashpoint in the nation's abortion debate.
Former clinic employees testified that Gosnell routinely performed illegal abortions past Pennsylvania's 24-week limit, that he delivered babies who were still moving or breathing, and that he and his assistants dispatched the newborns by "snipping" their spines, as he referred to it.
Prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty because Gosnell killed more than one person and his victims were especially vulnerable given their age. But Gosnell's own advanced age had made it unlikely he would ever be executed before his appeals ran out.
Gosnell's lawyer, Jack McMahon, said his client accepts the verdict and is not sorry he went to trial. He said Gosnell gave up a better deal early on but wanted to air the issues in court and is satisfied that he did so.
The sentencing deal, reached after hours of terse negotiations, spares Gosnell's family the task of pleading for his life in court, Mr McMahon said. Gosnell has six children, the youngest of them a teenager born to his third wife, who has also pleaded guilty in the case.
A 2011 grand jury investigation into Gosnell's alleged prescription drug trafficking led to the gruesome findings about his abortion clinic. An FBI raid had turned up 47 aborted foetuses stored in clinic freezers, jars of tiny severed feet, bloodstained furniture and dirty medical instruments, along with cats roaming the premises.
"I wanted to be an effective, positive force in the minority community," Gosnell told The Philadelphia Daily News in a 2010 interview, when he predicted he would be "vindicated".
He declined to offer any remarks in court to Judge Jeffrey Minehart but thanked Mr McMahon and said he was "very satisfied" with his legal representation.
Pennsylvania authorities had failed to conduct routine inspections of all its abortion clinics for 15 years by the time Gosnell's facility was raided in 2010. In the scandal's aftermath, two top state health officials were fired, and Pennsylvania imposed tougher rules for clinics.