By Cheryl Sullenger with Lauren Handy
Queens, NY – The criminal manslaughter case goes to the jury today after often emotional and sometimes shocking closing arguments were presented by the prosecution and the defense against abortionist Robert Rho, who is accused of causing the death of Jaime Lee Morales, 30 during a fatally botched in the 26th week of her pregnancy.
Operation Rescue’s courtroom observer, Lauren Handy, will be in court awaiting a verdict in this trial that is now in its eighteenth day. Also present in court were Rho’s father, mother, wife, and teen-aged son as well as the victim’s friends and family. Some members of the media and representatives from various pro-life groups were also present.
If convicted of Second Degree Manslaughter, Rho could face up to 15 years in prison.
Tension that has been witnessed between Rho and his attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, throughout the trial once again manifested when Judge Gregory Lasak entered the court and questioned Rho on his understanding of his right to testify in his own defense since Rho had not taken the stand.
“Are you satisfied,” the judge asked Rho.
“I suppose,” Rho replied.
Judge Lasak then asked if Rho had spoken to his attorney, to which Rho responded, “I am satisfied.”
Finally, closing arguments began late-morning when Rho’s a nervous and visibly sweating Lichtman rose to address the jury.
Lichtman’s spoke for over an hour. His presentation was extemporaneous and racially manipulative. He asked the jury to view the evidence with an open eye and an open heart.
“America is a great country and everyone deserves a fair trial,” he said. “History has shown there have been ties of unfairness, like slavery.”
The jury was comprised of four women and eleven men. Out of those 15 jurors, four were white and the rest were people of color. It was obvious that Lichtman was making an emotional appeal to the non-white jurors for sympathy for Rho, who is of Asian descent.
Lichtman described how most of the prosecution’s witnesses had lied or purposely left out key facts. He attacked the honesty of a Queens homicide detective and implied that the damaging testimony from Morales’ sister earlier in the trial could not be trusted.
He warned the jury that the prosecutor would present to them sensational facts about how they found a fetus in a garbage bag “to sway your emotion.”
“It’s a modern-day lynching!” Lichtmen cried, appealing once again to the jurors of color.
Lichtman’s primary argument seemed to be that Morales had failed to give her full medical history at the time of her abortion, including the fact she suffered from Lupus, an autoimmune disease that could result in bruising and excess bleeding. He opined that the blood found pooled in her skull and the bruises found on her legs was evidence she was having a Lupus episode at the time of her fatal abortion.
However, earlier testimony indicated that Morales had passed out in the bathroom – most likely from blood loss – and bumped her head as she fell. Bruising to her legs occurred when Rho’s female staff struggled to lift Morales, who was unconscious, into a wheelchair.
Lichtman attempted to persuade the jury that there was some sort of conspiracy of lies to hide the facts about the Lupus, and that the family was just trying to make money through a civil lawsuit against Rho.
“Don’t let these lies be buried forever,” Lichtman begged the jury in conclusion of his closing arguments.
Next, prosecutor Brad Leventhal addressed the jury for the final time.
“Jaime Morales isn’t dead because she had Lupus,” he began. “She’s dead because the defendant ripped a 7 ½ in hole the size of a fist in her uterus.”
Leventhal then replayed the security video from inside Rho’s abortion facility on the day of Morales’ abortion. It showed her limp head falling back as she sat unconscious in a wheelchair just prior to being discharged.
He told the jury, “This case is simple. It’s about greed, arrogance, and desperation.”
Leventhal went on to explain how Morales had felt desperate, and that Rho had preyed on that desperation. He explained how she was having problems with the baby’s father – the first time the term “baby” was used in the trial.
Morales had first gone to Planned Parenthood but was turned away – not because of the lupus, but because she was too far along for a legal abortion in New York, which restricts abortion beyond 24 weeks.
Leventhal reminded the jury that even the medical examiner had explained that Lupus had no role in her death and urged them to remember the facts and not allow Lichtman’s baseless arguments muddle the situation.
“The defense said don’t let these lies be buried forever, but in all respect, the only thing that’s going to be buried forever is Jaime Morales,” Leventhal said.
Morales had died because Rho had lacerated her uterus, reached into her abdominal cavity and sliced her uterine artery, lacerated her cervix, and cut deep into the wall of her vagina. Leventhal then reminded the jury how Rho had masked her internal bleeding by stitching her cervix shut.
The prosecutor brought up the testimony of one of Rho’s former employees Kelly Sue. She said Rho left his abortion facility just five minutes after discharging Morales. “He just wanted her gone,” Leventhal said.
At this point, Judge Lasak stopped Leventhal in mid-sentence and called for a recess. After the jury was removed from the room, Lasak rebuked Rho for attempting to influence the jury by making faces during the prosecution’s closing argument. Rho had also gestured toward the jury and shook his head at various prosecution statements. Lasak warned Rho to stop this behavior and threatened to remove him from the court if he did not.
In another odd turn of events, Rho’s father would burst out laughing at inappropriate times throughout the arguments and was threatened with removal as well.
Once Judge Lasak had regained control of the courtroom, the jury was brought in and Leventhal was allowed to finish is closing argument.
He noted that it was greed and arrogance that killed Jaime Morales.
“He gambled with a life and she lost,” said Leventhal. “He shoes his pocketbook over his patient’s safety.”
Leventhal explained that two of Rho’s staff, Kelly Sue and Grace, had no medical training. They had each applied for jobs as receptionists but were soon working in the procedure room assisting with surgeries. Kelly would do ultrasounds and remove “specimens” while Grace took vitals, which she really did not know how to do. Rho told her to just put numbers down.
But perhaps the most disturbing facts of the trial that were recounted by Leventhal regarded how Jaime was treated during her second procedure – treatment that was tantamount to torture.
After Morales continued to hemorrhage after the first abortion procedure, she was taken back to the procedure room for a second procedure. By this time, her sedation had worn off.
Rho instructed Kelly to strap the victim’s legs in the stirrups and hold her down.
He then told Morales, “Bear the pain. I can’t give you any more anesthesia.”
This caused the family to openly weep in court.
Leventhal reminds the jurors it was greed and arrogance that led to Morales’ death. Rho had become reckless from cutting corners in order to achieve the most money from every abortion.
With closing arguments completed, court was dismissed for the day.
Today, the jury will deliberate Rho’s fate.
“Rho couldn’t have slashed Jaime Morales more if he had been Jack the Ripper,” said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue. “The fact he had her strapped down and constrained while he conducted a second abortion and sutured her internally without anesthesia was nothing short of torture. He deserves the full measure of justice allowed by law – and then some.”
Operation Rescue will continue to update with developments as they come in.