Snippets from the Gosnell murder trial as my mind races
May 2, 2013 (Unmaskingchoice.ca) - On a few occasions now I've had coffee with two abortionists. On Monday, though, I had a very different encounter with an abortionist; this time, I watched Kermitt Gosnell stand trial for murder.
And as I sat in bed in Philadelphia at the end of my day, which began at 3:30am, sleep didn't feel like it was going to work for me, at least right away. How does one process what one heard? Did what I listened to sink in? Did I even want to let such knowledge of depravity fester in the recesses of my mind?
But there it was, for on Monday I heard. And saw. And it seemed that everything I noticed that day was through the lens of what was being shared in courtroom 304.
My shoes. My cute, shiny, slightly pointy, black high heels. I looked at those differently on Monday. The prosecutor prompted me to—not intentionally, of course, but it was in his closing arguments: He reminded the jury of all they'd heard from witnesses in the preceding weeks, and he threw out the measurement: "Two feet long," he said. And of course I looked down for a frame of reference that matched the measurement a witness gave for one of Gosnell's newborn victims.
The public washroom. I've never walked into a stall, stared at the toilet, and thought about a baby floating in it. But that's where my mind went at a bathroom break moments after leaving the courtroom where the prosecutor reminded the jury that at Gosnell's "House of Horrors," a staff member saw a 6-month baby born alive into a toilet. The staffer then slit the baby's neck.
I walked to the sink to wash my hands. As I watched the water flood into the basin and funnel at the drain, like a snapshot my mind instantly thought of tiny human arms being flushed down the sink. Oh wait, that wasn't the sink; it was the toilet. Right. Another fact that dropped from the lips of the prosecutor—the clinic's maintenance man routinely (once or twice a week, in fact) fixed clogged drains at the clinic; one day, when he opened the drain on the outside of the building, material gushed out that included human arms and other body parts.
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I returned to the courtroom. It was filled with people. And as the words of the prosecutor entered in, summarizing weeks of gruesome testimony, my ears competed with my eyes. I kept scanning the audience—from jury to judge to Gosnell himself. My mind continually scanned the crowd to dare an impossible feat—to figure out what was going through their minds. The juror with the beard. He kept stroking it. Was he uncomfortable? Not yet convinced? Is it as obvious to him as it is to me that there is no shadow of doubt. Wait a minute. That female juror at the end, interesting—she's rubbing her eyes. Is she crying? Is the brutality getting to her? Oh, wait, no, she just looks tired. A few hours for me, but weeks for her. Blank expressions. Too many blank expressions. Mystery baits me and I want answers. But I'm left to merely wonder.
There's a break. Gosnell's lawyer walks right in front of me. I look. And keep looking. Okay, I'm staring. If he noticed, I'd look rude. I don't care; I'm utterly bewildered and curious—what kind of person defends a man like Gosnell? If he believes Gosnell is innocent does that mean he's blind? If he knows Gosnell is guilty but makes an alternate case, does that mean he's evil?
We're seated again. The court artist is good. My spot is perfect to watch her; from my vantage point I get to see everything from her vantage point. Gosnell himself is coming to life on her sheet. Wow, she's really good. I crane my neck to get my own glimpse. What, on earth, is going through his mind? He's taking notes. His right hand now cradles his chin and mouth. The hands that witnesses say slit the necks of babies born alive. The hands that a witness says slapped the thigh of a patient who got "a little bit rowdy."
I look at my own hands. They shook—cradled, fact—the hands of men like Gosnell. On several occasions. Those men too have used their hands to kill, to suction and dismember the fragile bodies of the youngest of our kind. But they're not on trial; no, they killed their victims in-utero, not outside.
A distinction without a difference.
Stephanie Gray is the director of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform.