Virtual Voices
Sherry West
Philadelphia Police Department
Sherry West

The Gosnell trial’s bewildered witness

Abortion

PHILADELPHIA—If abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s murder trial were an old Perry Mason episode, yesterday would have been the day when the famous defender would make the courtroom gasp by showing that the kleptomaniac lady in the case of the shoplifter’s shoe could not possibly have killed her jeweler friend.

Things started sanguine in the courtroom for the prosecution, whose main witness for the day, former Gosnell staffer Sherry West, had entered into a “memorandum of agreement” to cooperate with them against Gosnell in exchange for a more lenient third-degree murder charge. Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore elicited graphic testimony from West about a baby “precipitated” in a toilet, and another aborted victim placed in a surgical tray who “was making a weird noise … like a screeching noise or something … sounded like an alien … it upset me.”

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If Thursday’s witness, Steven Massof, was disturbingly clinical and conscienceless, Sherry West could best be described as bewildered. She was a simple soul with evident loyalty to Gosnell, “because he was a doctor.”

The 53-year-old West had been employed doing prep work in the operating room of a Veterans Affairs hospital until a bout of depression and the contracting of hepatitis C left her in a disability fight with the VA, and no income for two years. Desperate, in 2008 she approached Gosnell, her primary care doctor for more than 20 years, and he offered her work for pay under the table at his Women’s Medical Society in West Philadelphia, where she was taught to take vital signs, prep the procedure rooms, and administer antibiotics in the post-procedure rooms.

Monday’s questioning by the DA concentrated on a Virginia woman who died as a result of medications associated with her abortion. West was on duty that night, but as defense attorney Jack McMahon pressed in his cross examination it became alarmingly clear to the courtroom that at every step of the crisis, West’s involvement in the demise of Karnamaya Mongar was remote but that she had been helpful to the patient—including offering to drive Mongar’s family to the hospital and bringing along the patient file, which the paramedics had forgotten.

Genuinely perplexed, McMahon finally asked West, “In this plea agreement you pled guilty to third-degree murder. Why? You didn’t give any meds. You weren’t in the procedure room. You did nothing but try to help her.” The obvious conclusion hovering above the proceedings like a poisoned piñata was that the prosecution had intimidated the feckless woman into taking a very bad deal indeed. What’s worse, what was done was done and irreversible. An incredulous McMahon asked the judge for a sidebar, and he could be heard complaining that since she has pleaded guilty, “there’s no defense for her.”

Two years ago a car accident in my family generated seven separate citations totaling $706.45, which I immediately sat down and wrote checks for, naively thinking that that’s what you do when you get traffic tickets—you pay them. I was later told by a lawyer at church and by every Tom, Dick, and Harry, how dumb I was. Nobody does that, the lawyer told me. What you do is appear before the judge looking normal, and he routinely reduces the fines. Sherry West, like me, was a babe in the legal weeds, and as malleable in the hands of the system as Puzzle the donkey in the hands of the shifty ape Shift in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle.

In another trial 2,000 years ago, Jesus commented to Pontius Pilate about degrees of guilt (John 19:11). By the end of Monday afternoon in Judge Jeffrey Minehart’s courtroom, the loss of innocence was spreading like a fetid inkblot.

Andrée Seu Peterson
Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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