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Defense rests in murder trial of Philadelphia abortion doctor

By Dave Warner

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Defense lawyers for a Philadelphia abortion doctor accused of killing babies in a clinic that mainly serves low-income women rested their case on Wednesday without calling any witnesses in the high-profile murder trial.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, is charged with killing four infants during botched abortions and a woman who underwent an abortion and died at a nearby hospital after the procedure at his Women's Medical Society clinic in urban West Philadelphia.

He could face the death penalty if convicted in the case in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia that focuses on whether or not the infants were born alive and then killed.

The charges against Gosnell and nine of his employees have rekindled the debate in the United States about late-term abortions.

Prosecutors said Gosnell ran a "house of horrors" in a West Philadelphia health clinic where women went for late-term abortions. The district attorney's office said Gosnell delivered live babies during botched abortions and then deliberately severed their spinal cords, killing them.

Gosnell's defense lawyer, John McMahon, characterized the prosecution of his client, who is black, as "elitist, racist." He said there was no evidence that the babies were delivered alive, noting "the first rule of homicide is someone has to be alive."

It is legal in Pennsylvania to abort a fetus at up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. It becomes murder when the infant is fully expelled from the mother alive and then killed, according to a lawyer familiar with Pennsylvania law, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the case.

The move by Gosnell's attorneys to rest their case came a day after they succeeded in convincing Judge Jeffrey Minehart to dismiss three murder charges involving infants. Gosnell had originally been charged with killing seven babies.

Closing arguments in the case were expected to begin on Monday, with the seven-woman, five-man jury beginning deliberations the following day.

Outside court, reporters asked McMahon why he opted for what seemed like a surprise move. He said he had presented his client's defense during a rigorous cross-examination of more than three dozen prosecution witnesses.

"You saw a defense," McMahon said.

Gosnell has been in jail since his January 2011 arrest. Eight other defendants have pleaded guilty to a variety of charges and are awaiting sentencing.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Cynthia Johnston, Nick Zieminski and Andrew Hay)

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