By Cheryl Sullenger, with Lauren Handy
Queens, NY — The manslaughter trial of abortionist Robert Rho resumed on Wednesday with a short day of testimony.
Rho is standing trial on one count of Second Degree Manslaughter (Reckless Homicide), a Class C Felony, for causing the death of Jaime Morales, 30, during a severely botched second trimester abortion in 2016.
An observer for Operation Rescue, Lauren Handy, has been in the courtroom all week. No other media outlets have had a presence in court.
The most significant testimony heard this week, was that of Dr. Steven Chasen, who sits on the Executive Board of the New York City Planned Parenthood. Chasen served as an expert witness for the prosecution, using autopsy photos to point out to the jury internal injuries Morales suffered during her botched late-term abortion.
Chasen had testified that Rho had lacerated her uterus and uterine artery, sliced through her cervix and cut deep into her vagina during the dismemberment abortion. Morales was bleeding so badly that Rho returned her to the procedure room for a second abortion. While there, he attempted to suture her injuries, but he could not repair them all.
Finally, in an attempt to make it appear that her bleeding had stopped, Rho “cinched” her cervix shut, forcing the blood to pool into her abdominal cavity. Even though she was non-responsive, Rho released her at approximately 6:30 p.m.
“It is shocking that Rho did not call an ambulance for Moralas. He had to understand that she was still hemorrhaging internally. Instead, from what we know so far, he butchered her and her baby then kicked her to the curb to die,” said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman.
The reason for the horrific extent of Morales’ injuries was made clearer with testimony on Wednesday from a Queens Homicide Squad Detective, who was present at Rho’s abortion facility when a search warrant was executed on July 14, 2016, just five days after Morales’ fatal abortion. Her name was stated in court, but Handy could not make it out.
The detective was told to focus her search on finding laminaria sticks, which are thin dilators that are inserted into the cervix and expand as they absorb the natural fluids of the body. This is done to widen the cervical opening enough to insert abortion instruments and extract dismembered parts of the baby’s body during a Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) abortion.
According to testimony, instead of taking two days to do the abortion, which would have allowed the cervix to be prepared with laminaria and Misoprostol overnight, Rho had attempted to conduct a second trimester abortion on Morales in just one day.
This rush to get the abortion done in only a single day would have made opening the cervix more difficult and risky, and was a contributing factor to the internal lacerations and tears that Morales suffered.
The detective testified that she found no evidence of laminaria sticks during the search of Rho’s facility.
On cross examination, defense attorney Jeff Lichtman handed the detective a crime scene photo taken during the search on July 14, 2016. He pointed to white boxes shown in the photo and asked her to identify what was in the boxes. She did not know but was informed that they were laminaria dilators.
A second crime scene photo with similar white boxes was shown to the witness who was forced to admit that they did contain laminaria. This testimony upset the victim’s family, who were present in court observing the trial.
Lichtman questioned the witness about personal notes she had taken when she interviewed the victim’s sister, who had attempted to drive Morales home after the abortion. Lichtman questioned why certain information was in her personal notes but was left out of her official report. This included information provided by the sister that Morales was a heavy drinker. The witness became defensive at the line of questioning and Lichtman attempted unsuccessfully to have her declared a hostile witness.
The detective had also interviewed some of Rho’s employees. One of them, referred to as Kelly Sue, indicated she had seen Rho put pills into the victim’s vagina on the day of the abortion, but was not sure about laminaria because it was his custom to manually dilate. Kelly Sue also had told the detective that another staff member, Grace, had taken Morales’ vitals once after the procedure but before she went into the bathroom.
Under questioning by prosecutor Brad Leventhal, the detective testified that she had asked the victim’s sister why Morales was so insistent on getting the abortion when she was so far along. The detective was told that Morales had lupus and also “went to a couple of parties and drank a lot” during the beginning of the pregnancy.
The witness also clarified that Kelly Sue told during her interview that Grace did not recheck Morales’ vitals after she passed out in the bathroom and hit her head.
The second and final witness of the day was Dr. Bradley Adams, who is a forensic anthropologist with the NYU School of Medicine. Adams is an expert in the field of the structure of the human skeleton and specializes in studying trauma related to bone injuries.
Adams’ testimony concerned Morales’ baby. He described the state of the baby’s remains when he first examined them. He told the jury that the baby’s head was decapitated and the right and left arms were partially detached. An x-ray was taken of the remains to document what bones were present.
Adams displayed the x-ray for the jury and pointed out two bones in the baby’s ankle and heel. Those bones form during the 24-26th weeks of pregnancy. Adams explained that he also measured the pelvis and compared the measurements to studies showing that bone size correlates with age.
Adams determined that the Morales baby was 24-26 weeks gestation at the time of death, which was consistent with an ultrasound done at Rho’s facility that indicated the baby was 25.1 weeks gestation.
“The Morales baby was nearly six months gestation. That is a big baby. It is horrifying to think of a baby that big being torn from the womb. No wonder there were so many internal injuries to the mother,” said Newman. “She was essentially butchered in the process.”
Adams also confirmed the previous testimony of abortionist Steven Chasen by informing the jury once again that a “fetus’ life begins when sperm meets egg.”
That concluded testimony for the day. Dr. Arup De, an anesthesiologist who had testified on Monday, was scheduled to resume his testimony Wednesday, but for unknown reasons was not called to the stand.
The prosecution is tentatively scheduled to rest its case today, after which it will be the defense’s turn to put on its case.
If convicted, Rho faces a penalty of 3 1/2 to 15 years in prison.
Operation Rescue will continue to report on this trial as it progresses.
Read our previous report on this trial.