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Former Gosnell employee: Problem abortion 'really freaked me out'

Even four years later, a look of horror was on Sherry West's face as she told a Philadelphia jury of the time a staffer asked her to help out with a problem in the abortion procedure room at Kermit Gosnell's Women's Medical Society clinic.

Kermit Gosnell had been Sherry West's doctor for more than 20 years and gave her a job when she was ill and out of work.

Still, West testified, she hated working in the room where Gosnell performed abortions — never more than the night a staffer asked for help with a problem at Gosnell's Women's Medical Society clinic in West Philadelphia.

"There was this clear glass pan, and I saw it, and I thought, 'What do you expect me to do?' " West testified Monday at Gosnell's murder trial.

"It wasn't fully developed," West told the Common Pleas Court jury, referring to the 18- to 24-inch-long newborn in the pan. It didn't have eyes or a mouth but it was like screeching, making this noise. It was weird. It sounded like a little alien."

Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore, West, 53, said she did not know what happened to the "specimen" — the term she said she used because "it was easier to deal with mentally."

"It really freaked me out, and I said call Dr. Gosnell, and I went back out front," West added.

Testifying under a deal with prosecutors after she pleaded guilty to third-degree murder involving the overdose death of a Gosnell abortion patient, West was the reluctant leadoff witness as the trial entered its fourth week.

Under questioning from Gosnell's lawyer, Jack McMahon, West buckled, began crying, and revised some answers she had given Pescatore.

West insisted she and other workers did not give drugs to patients without first calling Gosnell.

And West recanted her guilty plea to administering some of the sedative that anesthetized — and killed — Karnamaya Mongar, 41, on Nov. 19, 2009.

"Do you think you're guilty of the crime?" McMahon asked.

"No," West said, sobbing.

"Then why did you plead guilty?" McMahon asked.

"It was so confusing," West cried. "I didn't know what to do."

Pescatore then reviewed West's plea bargain again, and West admitted she voluntarily pleaded guilty hoping for leniency when she is sentenced.

Gosnell, 72, is on trial on seven counts of first-degree murder, accused of killing infants born alive and viable during illegal late-term abortions.

He faces a possible death sentence if the jury finds him guilty.

Gosnell is also charged with third-degree murder in Mongar's death. Prosecutors say Mongar was given too much Demerol by Gosnell's untrained staff.

Also on trial is Eileen O'Neill, 56, of Phoenixville, an unlicensed medical school graduate who saw patients as part of Gosnell's family practice. She did not perform abortions; she is accused of participating in a "corrupt organization."

Like three other Gosnell employees who testified, West was hired by Gosnell as she was going through personal problems.

West said she had worked for 22 years as a surgical technician at the veteran's hospital in West Philadelphia but quit in 2007 after she contracted hepatitis C and developed anxiety and depression.

She applied for Social Security disability benefits but by late 2008 had not been approved and had not earned a salary for almost two years.

Gosnell had been her personal doctor more than 20 years, West testified, and she asked him to "help me find a job under the table. He said he could help me with that."

Though untrained, West said she learned to perform ultrasound exams on pregnant women and administer oral and IV sedatives and medication.

West said that she often saw patients who looked pregnant beyond 24 weeks, the limit for abortions in Pennsylvania.

"They looked like they shouldn't have been there," West testified. "Their bellies were big."

In those cases, West said, Gosnell logged ultrasound tests at "24.5 weeks" — over the limit but within the margin of error for late abortions.

West said she was present Nov. 19, 2009, when Mongar, of Virginia, went into cardiac arrest during an abortion procedure. She said she saw Gosnell performing CPR on the woman.

Several days later, West said, Gosnell held a staff meeting where he told them what to say to police.

West did as she was told and also relayed back to Gosnell information about what police asked her.

"I felt a loyalty to him because he had been my doctor for so long," West testified.