BUFFALO, N.Y., June 5 (UPI) -- James Kopp, the anti-abortion militant suspected in the 1998 sniper slaying of an Amherst, N.Y., doctor, was returned to New York from France Wednesday and pleaded innocent to federal charges.
Kopp, 47, was charged with using deadly force to prevent Dr. Barnett Slepian from providing reproductive health services and with using a firearm to commit a crime. If convicted he could be sentenced to life in prison and fined $250,000.
Slepian was killed by a rifle bullet fired through the kitchen window of his home.
Paul Cambria, Kopp's attorney described his client as "upbeat and confident."
"He has plausible and innocent explanation for his actions," said Cambria, who entered the innocent plea on behalf of his client.
Kopp, who was arrested in France more than a year ago, was transported Wednesday from Paris to Niagara Falls, N.Y. International Airport in hand cuffs and leg irons aboard a U.S. Department of Justice aircraft.
"There were extra-security concerns because this is a high -profile case and it's an issue that involves very high-spirited feelings on both sides," U.S. Marshal John Palillo said.
Along with federal marshals, Kopp was escorted from France by FBI agents and John Moslow, Amherst's chief of police who characterized his arrival in western New York as a "long-awaited day for the Amherst Community and the Slepian family in particular."
"There's been nothing to indicate that there's a security problem and I hope that all this is not going to create the impression or illusion of one because I don't think that will allow Mr. Kopp to have a fair trial," said Cambria.
According to the FBI, a sniper stood about 100 feet in a wooded area behind the Slepian's Amherst house and killed the 52-year-old obstetrician-gynecologist with a single shot through a kitchen window.
Kopp is scheduled to be arraigned on state charges of second-degree murder Thursday in state court in Buffalo, N.Y. If convicted he faces life imprisonment on the state charges.
The anti-abortion activist had also been charged by an Erie County grand jury on June 24, 1999, for reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon, but those charges were dropped because they were not extraditable charges, according to Erie County District Attorney Fran Clark.
The endangerment charge stems from putting the Slepian family at risk by shooting into the house.
Kopp was arrested in Dinan, France on March 29, 2001, following a 2-year search. The California native had been on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
Kopp's 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. The federal charges against Kopp carried the death penalty.
Since his capture in France, Kopp has said he is innocent and is eager to clear his name.
"I relish the opportunity to bring this before a trial jury and have them consider the ultimate question," Clark said. "And I don't relish things that I think will be unpleasant to myself."
There were no demonstrations by either side of the abortion issue outside the Buffalo courthouse, however, Joe Roach, a friend of Kopp told reporters he "represented the many pro-life people who support him."
"He spent years helping Mother Theresa -- helping the poor and he's just not the kind of guy who would do anything like this," Roach said. "I wanted him to see me, to see that despite the fact that there are 20 law enforcement people in court, that I was there. We know that he is innocent."
Marilyn Buckham, executive director of Buffalo Gyn/Womanservices, said," Kopp's got good representation so they can't say he wasn't represented well."