PHILADELPHIA—With the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s five-week case against abortionist Kermit Gosnell concluded, the defense yesterday made a motion for a judgment of acquittal on some of the charges against its client that lacked evidentiary merit. Judge Jeffrey Minehart obliged by dropping three counts of first-degree murder, regarding “Baby B,” “Baby C,” and “Baby G.” Also granted were defense attorney Jack McMahon’s request to acquit Gosnell of infanticide and corpse abuse. Five counts remain of first-degree murder of other infants, and one of third-degree murder of a Virginia woman who died on the abortion table.
Then the judge called for a 10-minute break.
In the once forlorn—and in recent days packed-out—press box could be seen a huddle of animated reporters with pad and pen firing random clarification questions to one another: “‘G’ was the one that breathed?” “No, that was the one whose leg moved.” “Wasn’t that the arm one?” “‘B’ was 28 weeks?” “I don’t think it’s the gestation, I think it’s the aeration.” “I think ‘G’ was the respiratory excursion one.” “Was that the baby in the box?”
The zeal is totally understandable. As Joe Friday of Dragnet taught us about cops, a news sleuth’s first duty is to get the what, where, when, why, who, and how straight: “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Nevertheless, there was something surreal about the spectacle of such fervent fastidiousness for prosaic detail in the midst of a case dealing with the slaughter of innocents. The tyranny of publication tends to reduce our goals to crossing t’s and dotting i’s correctly, and to forget what in blazes is going on in this room. We get lost in the weeds, and the weeds become a relief. Otherwise we would have to think about the enormity of questions.
Other angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin issues bandied about yesterday between the prosecution and defense included the following: definition of a corpse; whether the statute that relates to “Baby D” in the toilet speaks of “definite voluntary movement” or “movement of a voluntary muscle”; whether the prosecution must show malice, defined as “a conscious disregard,” in the case of the Virginia woman who died; whether infanticide and personhood presuppose a baby “completely extracted” and “entirely outside the mother”; whether determination of life in an aborted baby is sufficiently proved by a single indicator of life (a breath, a whimper, one arm movement, one leg movement) or only by multiple indicators.
It is a challenge to keep a sense of proportion with the fire hose of information blasting toward you in the courtroom. To do otherwise would be as silly as noting among your forensic evidence in a bloody domestic crime scene that the butter was left out.