Say what you will about abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, the man was something of a naturalist.
After four weeks of testimony at the 72-year-old doctor's murder trial, the witnesses' one consistent description of the interior of Gosnell's Women's Medical Society clinic at 3801-05 Lancaster Ave. was lots of plants and animals.
Photos of the four buildings that were combined into the West Philadelphia clinic show plants in almost every free space and countertop. There were one or more cats that had the run of the building and, dominating the waiting room, were huge glass tanks containing Gosnell's collection of angel fish and turtles.
Their importance to the 72-year-old doctor was evident at 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 18, 2010 when a task force of state and federal agents raided Gosnell's clinic as part of a probe of illegal trafficking in prescription narcotics.
Task force member James Wood, then a detective for the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, told the Common Pleas Court jury last week that Gosnell was met by the agents as he arrived at his clinic. He was on a cell phone with his wife, Pearl, and carried a bag containing his dinner in one hand and a large, brown-paper shopping bag in the other.
Gosnell was cordial, Wood recalled, and asked if he could bring his dinner while he answered questions in his office. Certainly, the detective replied. Could he put his clams in the refrigerator? Gosnell asked.
The large shopping bag was filled with fresh clams and, again, the detective said yes.
Gosnell put the bag in the refrigerator but emerged with two clams. Wood said he walked to one of the aquariums, cracked open the clams on the spot and began dropping pieces of clam meat into the water for the hungry turtles.
"Once he had done that, I started trying to get the doctor into his office," Wood said.
That night was the last for Gosnell's medical clinic although he still had access to the building and continued caring for his wildlife until January 2011 when he and nine employees were charged with performing illegal late-abortions. Gosnell was charged with murdering fetuses born live and has been in custody ever since.
While Gosnell was behind bars, his fishes and turtles found an unusual caretaker: the Philadelphia Police Crimes Scene Unit. Office John Taggart, a veteran member of the unit, and fellow officers had to be in the clinic every week collecting and documenting evidence for trial, and they began caring for Gosnell's animals.
Several months ago, as trial neared, Taggart said he found a new home for the animals: Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in the Pine Barrens in Atlantic County. Stockton has its own 400-acre outside research lab, a marine research lab and marina.
"They were happy to take them," Taggart said.