Gosnell Found Guilty: Will He Get the Death Penalty?

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on May 13, 2013 4:01 PM

Abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell was found guilty on three counts of premeditated first-degree murder on Monday, following a five-week trial involving allegations of fetuses being killed after being removed from the womb.

Gosnell, 72, who once ran a clinic in West Philadelphia, was also convicted on one count of involuntary manslaughter for the death of an adult female patient. Prosecutors have stated that they will seek the death penalty for the murders, The New York Times reports.

What's next for the notorious late-term abortion doctor in the sentencing phase of his trial?

Two Trial Phases

Several states allow the death penalty, including Pennsylvania. In death penalty cases, the trial is separated into two phases:

  1. The guilt phase. This is where jurors decide whether a defendant like Gosnell is guilty of a capital offense like felony murder or premeditated murder.
  2. The sentencing phase. Jurors listen to evidence of mitigation and aggravation and decide whether to impose the death penalty.

For Gosnell, his sentencing phase is set to begin May 21, when jurors will begin to hear testimony to help them determine whether to impose the death penalty, reports ABC News.

Sentencing in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania law requires a jury to hear evidence following a guilty verdict for first degree murder concerning mitigating and aggravating circumstances of the murder.

Much like in the guilt phase of Gosnell's trial, prosecutors must prove any aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt.

A Pennsylvania jury cannot sentence a defendant to death without a unanimous finding of at least one aggravating factor which is not outweighed by a mitigating factor.

Gosnell could potentially face these common aggravating circumstances:

  • The defendant was paid by another person for the killing. Although this is likely reserved in cases of contract killings, the prosecution is not barred from presenting this to a jury in Gosnell's case.
  • The defendant was convicted of other murders. Since Gosnell was convicted of three separate counts of first-degree murder, the jury is likely to find this.
  • The victim was a child under 12 years of age. All three counts of murder for which Gosnell was convicted involved months-old fetuses.

But there's one notable caveat to Pennsylvania's death penalty law: It technically does not allow the death penalty in cases of first-degree murder of an unborn child. In Dr. Kermit Gosnell's case, however, it is likely that the fetuses will be considered "born" for purposes of sentencing.

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