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Why is the Kermit Gosnell Murder Trial Jury Taking So Long?

by Steven Ertelt | Philadelphia, PA | LifeNews.com | 5/3/13 3:31 PM

National

To hear it from pro-life advocates watching the Kermit Gosnell murder trial, it should take the jury all of five minutes to return a guilty verdict on the first degree murder charges he faces for killing four babies.

But the jury has now spent four days deliberating and concluded today without a verdict in the case. It will resume on Monday.

Why is the jury taking so long to adjudicate what seems like an open and shut case of infanticide?

LifeNews talked to Samuel Casey, a pro-life attorney who is the General Counsel for the Law of Life Project of the Jubilee Campaign.

Casey explains that under Pennsylvania law, all 12 of the jurors must reach a unanimous verdict on any of the murder counts Gosnell faces for him to be convicted on any of them. Each of the elements of a charged crime must be proven to each juror beyond reasonable doubt for that juror to vote to convict on that count and one reluctant juror could lead to a mistrial on any of the first-degree murder charges.

Since prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty in the case, the jury will only be deciding whether Gosnell is guilty related to the charges. If convicted, a second jury will be impaneled to determine sentencing under the penalty phase of the trial. During this phase, the judge has already instructed jurors to only consider guilt or innocence, he noted.

Given the number of charges Gosnell faces, and the fact that Gosnell has a co-defendant the jury is considering for conviction as well, the jury make take a longer period of time to arrive at a verdict on each of the 250-plus charges.

Most of the focus in the murder trial of abortion practitioner Kermit Gosnell is on the murder charges he faces for killing babies in abortion-infanticides and for killing a woman in a botched abortion. But the abortionist faces 258 counts total and other charges against him include one count of infanticide and one of racketeering, 24 counts of performing third-trimester abortions and 227 counts of failing to follow the 24-hour waiting period law before an abortion so women can consider its risks and alternatives.

The jury also has to evaluate charges against Eileen O’Neill, one of Gosnell’s staffers who pretended to be a doctor who has asked the judge to be acquitted.

Ultimately, that the Gosnell jury is taking so long may be an indication that they are taking very seriously the charges against him and want to thoroughly evaluate them to be able to deliver an appropriate verdict equal to the seriousness of the charges he faces. But as any good attorney knows, one can never predict what a jury may or may not do.

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Casey walked LifeNews through the jury process in the state of Pennsylvania and how the Gosnell jury is working:

“Generally speaking, after receiving the judge’s extensive instructions as the applicable law and hearing the final arguments, the Gosnell jury retired to the jury room to begin deliberating. In Pennsylvania, the first order of business is to elect one of the jurors as the foreperson or presiding juror. This person’s role is to preside over discussions and votes of the jurors, and often to deliver the verdict. The Judge Meinhart’s bailiff’s job is to ensure that no one communicates with the jury during deliberations.

“In Pennsylvania, here’s what the law says a criminal case jury can possess in the jury room:

Rule 646. Material Permitted in Possession of the Jury.

(A) Upon retiring, the jury may take with it such exhibits as the trial judge deems proper, except as provided in paragraph (C).

(B) The trial judge may permit the members of the jury to have for use during deliberations written copies of the portion of the judge’s charge on the elements of the offenses, lesser included offenses, and any defense upon which the jury has been instructed.

(1) If the judge permits the jury to have written copies of the portion of the judge’s charge on the elements of the offenses, lesser included offenses, and any defense upon which the jury has been instructed, the judge shall provide that portion of the charge in its entirety.

(2) The judge shall instruct the jury about the use of the written charge. At a minimum, the judge shall instruct the jurors that

(a) the entire charge, written and oral, shall be given equal weight; and

(b) the jury may submit questions regarding any portion of the charge.

(C) During deliberations, the jury shall not be permitted to have:

(1) a transcript of any trial testimony;

(2) a copy of any written or otherwise recorded confession by the defendant;

(3) a copy of the information or indictment; and

(4) except as provided in paragraph (B), written jury instructions.

(D) The jurors shall be permitted to have their notes for use during deliberations

As has already happened at least three times in the Gosnell case, it is common that the jury will have a question about the evidence or the judge’s instructions. If this happens, the jury will give a note to the bailiff to take to the judge. The judge may respond to the note, or may call the jury back into the courtroom for further instructions or to have portions of the transcript read to them. Of course, any communication between the judge and jury should be in the presence of lawyers for each side or with their knowledge.

As has occurred in the Gosnell case, it is common for the court to provide the jury with written forms of all possible verdicts, so that when a decision is reached, the jury has only to choose the proper verdict form. In the Gosnell criminal case, the verdict must be unanimous.

If the jury cannot come to a decision by the end of the day, the jurors may be sequestered, or housed in a hotel and secluded from all contact with other people, newspapers and news reports. In most cases, though, as is the current practice in the Gosnell case, the jury will be allowed to go home at night. The judge will instruct jurors not to read or view reports of the case in the news. Nor should they consider or discuss the case while outside of the jury room.

If the jurors cannot agree on a verdict, a hung jury results, leading to a mistrial. The case is not decided, and it may be tried again at a later date before a new jury. Or the government may decide not to pursue the case further and there will be no subsequent trial.”