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Kopp found guilty of intentional murder

By SYLVIA CUKAN, United Press International   |   March 18, 2003 at 5:09 PM
BUFFALO, N.Y., March 18 (UPI) -- James Kopp has been found guilty of intentional murder and faces 15 years to life in prison in the shooting death of abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian. The finding was made in Erie County Court, in Buffalo, N.Y., Tuesday.

Erie County Court Judge Michael L. D'Amico scheduled sentencing for May 9.

"We've advocated that this act deserves nothing less than the maximum term under the law -- that's 25 to life," Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark said. "To those of us in law enforcement it sends the message: Give us the tools and we'll get the job done.

"To those in the arena -- whether it's pro-choice or pro-life -- all they look at is in terms of their own agenda, and I don't know if they get any message out of it at all."

No witnesses testified during the one-day stipulated bench trial Monday where Deputy District Attorney Joseph J. Marusak and defense attorney Bruce A. Barket submitted into evidence 35 pages of stipulated facts and 45 exhibits that the prosecution and defense had agreed on.

D'Amico ruled based on the evidence submitted, which began with the statement: "That the defendant shot Dr. Slepian with a rifle Oct. 23, 1998."

"Obviously, Jim was very disappointed with the verdict," Barket said "What he asked me today to convey was, What are you going to do to save the babies?"

Barket said that Kopp hadn't waived his right to challenge the same facts at future proceedings such as the upcoming federal trial.

Kopp, 48, an anti-abortion activist, who has been arrested several times for attempting to block abortions at clinics, did not testify at his trial.

"I felt from day one we always had a good case, I thought the case was very, very strong, I always had confidence in the case," Clark said. "Any doubts were erased after Kopp confessed."

Kopp gave a jailhouse interview to The Buffalo News admitting that he shot Slepian but that he did not intend to kill him.

"I aimed at his shoulder. The bullet took a crazy ricochet, and that's what killed him. One of my goals was to keep Dr. Slepian alive, and I failed at that goal," Kopp told The Buffalo News. "I regret he died."

Kopp is accused of killing Slepian with a single shot from a high-powered rifle as the doctor stood in his kitchen in front of his wife and four sons.

He pleaded innocent to both the state charge of intentional murder and the federal charge of interfering with the right to an abortion. If convicted on the federal charge, he faces 25 years to life in prison.

A jury trial had been expected to begin last Wednesday, but it was unexpectedly canceled when it was announced that Kopp has chosen to waive his right to a jury.

Kopp was arrested in Dinan, France, on March 29, 2001, after an extensive manhunt that had him on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

His extradition was requested by the U.S. government and included assurances to France, which abolished capital punishment in 1981, that prosecutors would not seek the death penalty.

Topics: Frank Clark
© 2003 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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