Kopp admits shooting, claims innocence

By SYLVIA CUKAN, United Press International   |   Nov. 20, 2002 at 4:50 PM   |   0 comments

BUFFALO, N.Y., Nov. 20 (UPI) -- James Kopp, charged in the murder of Amherst, N.Y., abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian told two Buffalo News reporters Wednesday that he planned the shooting and pulled the trigger, but only intended to wound the physician.

In a 4-hour jailhouse interview with Kopp on Nov. 12 in Buffalo, N.Y., Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck said the 47-year-old anti-abortion rights activist said he regrets that Slepian died leaving a widow and four sons but that he never meant to kill him, only wound him so he could not continue to perform abortions.

"I aimed at his shoulder, I saw what I was aiming at. Only then did I fire," Kopp told the reporters. "I did it, and I'm admitting it, but I never, ever intended for Dr. Slepian to die."

Kopp said the admissions did not mean he was changing his plea of innocence.

Kop is being charged with using deadly force to prevent Slepian from providing reproductive health service in violation of the Freedom to Access to Clinic Entrances Act and state charges of second-degree murder, reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon.

Kopp told the reporters he believes that jurors might acquit him "because he never meant to kill and that his sole intention was to protect unborn children."

Slepian, a 52-year-old obstetrician-gynecologist, was killed by a single shot by a sniper while he was standing in front of his kitchen window on Oct. 23, 1998.

In his opening statement to the reporters, Kopp said: "To pick up a gun and aim it at another human being, and to fire, it's not a human thing to do. It's not nice. It's not pleasant. It's gory, it's bloody. It overcomes every human instinct. The only thing that would be worse, to me, would be to do nothing, and to allow abortions to continue."

The California native, who was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list for the killing of Slepian for 30 months and arrested in France, also said he found the names and addresses of six abortion providers in the Buffalo area but his decision to target Slepian was because his home was "vulnerable." Kopp was able to scout the neighborhood six times before the shooting.

Kopp said he chose Friday for the shooting because he knew the abortion clinic where Slepian worked was the busiest on Saturday, which meant "Slepian was within 10 hours of taking the lives of 25 babies." But he added he was "horrified" when he learned the next day that Slepian had been killed.

He told the reporters that as a student he was fascinated with the development of embryos. One day a doctor took him to the morgue and showed him a "dead fetus with minor birth defects that had been detected in-utero."

"She told me, 'When you see stuff like this, you really start to believe in abortion,'" Kopp told The News. "This was the first time I had ever seen a baby who had been killed, and this woman was proud, happy. I was stunned. I changed in that moment."

Shortly after that experience he joined the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and supported himself by working odd jobs. For about the next 20 years, he participated in numerous demonstrations outside abortion clinics nationwide and was jailed five times.

Kopp warned that other abortion foes might still target abortion providers.

"They're still in danger, absolutely," Kopp said. "I'm not the first, and I probably won't be the last."

Prosecutors said the detailed admissions were surprising.

"I'm surprised but it doesn't change at all; it doesn't change my case at all, it does give me greater flexibility," said Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark. "I can use the facts I was going to use or use the admissions or I can use both as I choose."

Members of the Buffalo anti-abortion right community defended Kopp's innocence.

"I'm glad he confessed, and I'm praying he repents and seeks God's forgiveness because that's what he has to do," the Rev. Robert Behn, an anti-abortion rights activist in Buffalo. "It's a tragic event: It's tragic for the Slepian family, it's tragic for Kopp's family and friends, and it's tragic for the pro-life community."

Topics: Frank Clark
© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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