James Charles Kopp

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James Charles Kopp
James Charles Kopp
James Charles Kopp
FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives
Charges Murder, Violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) act
Description
Born (1954-08-02) August 2, 1954 (age 60)
Pasadena, California
Status
Added June 7, 1999
Caught March 30, 2001
Number 455
Captured

James Charles Kopp (born August 2, 1954) is an American citizen who was convicted in 2003 for the 1998 sniper-style murder of Barnett Slepian, an American physician from Amherst, New York who performed abortions. Prior to his capture, Kopp was on the FBI's list of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. On June 7, 1999 he had become the 455th fugitive placed on the list by the FBI. He was affiliated with the militant Roman Catholic anti-abortion group known as "The Lambs of Christ".

He has been referred to as a terrorist by the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism,[1] and was "well-known in militant anti-abortion circles, where he was nicknamed Atomic Dog" [2]

Early life[edit]

James Charles Kopp was born in Pasadena, California and raised Lutheran, but later converted to Roman Catholicism. He graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1976, with a bachelor’s degree in Biology, going on to take a master's degree in Embryology from California State University Fullerton. Kopp started providing support to anti-abortion groups after his girlfriend underwent an abortion, and used his technical abilities to create special locks that protesters then used on the doors of abortion clinics.[2]

Murder[edit]

On October 23, 1998, at approximately 10 p.m., Barnett Slepian was standing in the kitchen of his home in Amherst, New York. Kopp fired a single shot from a rifle from a nearby wooded area, which entered the Slepian home through a rear window. Slepian was a well-known obstetrician/gynecologist who performed abortions at a women's clinic in Buffalo, New York. He also maintained a private medical practice in an office in Amherst, New York. Within hours of the murder, anti-abortion militants posted Slepian's name crossed out on their internet website, which also served as "a virtual hit list of doctors who carry out abortions".[2]

Fugitive[edit]

The FBI believed that Kopp received assistance in fleeing the US, although Irish pro-life groups denied they assisted him.[2]

Kopp fled to Mexico under an assumed name and later to Ireland. He then fled Ireland one step ahead of police on a ferry to Brittany, France on 12 March 2001, with two Irish passports besides his original U.S. document.[2]

On March 29, 2001, Kopp was arrested by French law enforcement in the town of Dinan, Brittany, just after picking up a package containing $300.[2] The United States requested his extradition. Attorney General John Ashcroft promised that the death penalty would not be sought, handed down or applied, a prerequisite according to the extradition treaty between France and the United States. Ashcroft's promise was made over the objections of New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark, both of whom sought the death penalty. Spitzer and Clark argued that the charge of murder was a state charge, not a federal charge, and Ashcroft had no jurisdiction in the matter. The instruction chamber of the Rennes Court of Appeals ruled in favor of extradition. Kopp appealed the ruling.[citation needed]

Extradition[edit]

In May 2002, Kopp waived all possible appeals in France and returned to the U.S. in June 2002.[citation needed]

Trial and conviction[edit]

On March 11, 2003, Kopp waived his right to a jury trial. Based upon an agreement between the defense and prosecution — Erie County Assistant District Attorney Joseph Maruszak and defense attorney Bruce Barkett — Erie County Judge Michael D'Amico would be required to find Kopp guilty or not guilty based on a single document of facts. In addition, the judge could not consider lesser charges; he had to find Kopp guilty or not guilty of second-degree murder. Kopp had confessed his role in the shooting to police, claiming he only meant to wound Slepian. D'Amico found him guilty and sentenced him to the maximum penalty, 25 years to life imprisonment, on May 9, 2003. D'Amico told Kopp "It's clear the act is premeditated; there is no doubt about it. You made an attempt to avoid responsibility for the act. What may appear righteous to you is immoral to someone else."[3] The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, upheld the conviction on July 7, 2006 (Shawn P. Hennessy, attorney for respondent and Timothy Murphy, attorney for appellant).

Appeals[edit]

Kopp filed an appeal with Federal court. Judge Richard Joseph Arcara was selected to preside. Arcara limited what Kopp could say on the stand and prohibited the defense from showing pictures of aborted fetuses. There are also limitations to witness' accounts. If found guilty in Federal court, Kopp faces a mandatory life sentence. Kopp was charged with violating the Clinic Entrances Act and using a weapon in the murder of Slepian. Kopp chose to act as his own attorney.[citation needed] On the second day of the federal trial, and during cross examination, Kopp moved to have the court reporter from his previous state trial read back statements pertaining to abortion. Judge Arcara precluded this, holding that under the Federal Rules of Evidence, Kopp was barred from stating anti-abortion, religious or moral reasoning for his actions, which ultimately precluded Kopp from revealing any rationale for his actions.[citation needed]

Kopp was also charged in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York on a count of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Kopp dismissed his court-assigned attorney, an assistant federal public defender, and chose to represent himself. On June 20, 2007, he was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 10 years for illegal use of a firearm. Additionally, the court ordered his belongings auctioned off in order to pay $2.6 million to Slepian's family. Arcara told Kopp at the end of the trial:

You served as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. You decided that you know better than any law.[4]

In his opening statement to the jury, Kopp said that although Slepian's death was "a full-bore, 100 percent tragedy" it wasn't murder because it was not malicious or premeditated. He did acknowledge that he had planned the shooting for a year, and that he fired a high-powered rifle with telescopic sights, but that he had only meant to wound the doctor (to keep him from performing abortions). Kopp claimed that murder means "Shoot them in the head, blow up a car, riddle their body with bullets like they do in the movies. That's how you kill someone."[citation needed]

On April 6, 2009, The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the life sentence holding that all issues raised were without merit.[citation needed]

Other possible crimes[edit]

It has been speculated that Kopp has committed other crimes besides killing Slepian. The FBI notes that "(t)he shooting was similar to shootings in the Rochester, New York area, and three Canadian cities during the fall of 1997, in which abortion doctors were shot in their homes".[5] Kopp has been charged by Canadian authorities in the 1995 shooting of an Ontario, Canada doctor, Hugh Short, one of a string of Remembrance Day Shootings.[6][7][8][9][10]

Garson "Gary" Romalis and Jack Fainman were also shot and wounded by unknown assailants. An unnamed Perinton doctor was shot on October 28, 1997; the bullet narrowly missing his or her head. His or her name has been withheld by Monroe County police.[citation needed]

Co-conspirators[edit]

Kopp received help from sympathetic pro-life activist couple Loretta Marra and Dennis Malvasi of Brooklyn, who pled guilty to one count each of conspiracy in helping Kopp avoid capture. Marra and Malvasi had communicated extensively with Kopp, telling him also via electronic communications that "the coast is clear", referring to his proposed secretive return to US via Canada, and also to his use of their home as a safe house.[2] On August 21, 2003, they were sentenced to time served, and released. The fugitive assisters later changed their names to Joyce Maier and Ted Barnes.[2]

Fictional portrayals[edit]

The murder of Barnett Slepian inspired an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent named The Third Horse Man in season 1 episode 11.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism bio sketch of Kopp
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Vulliamy, McDonald & Jeffries (2001) Abortion death hunt muzzles 'Atomic Dog': FBI Kept At Bay by Suspect Using A Secret Email System, The Guardian, 1 April 2001
  3. ^ Killer of New York abortion doctor gets maximum 25 years to life sentence from CourtTV News
  4. ^ Broken link from The Buffalo News
  5. ^ Facts and Figures 2003 from the FBI
  6. ^ Anti-Abortion Extremists -James Kopp
  7. ^ Doug Saunders, "Hidden Face of Murder Frustrates Pursuers". Globe and Mail, October 22, 2002, pp.A9.
  8. ^ Robert Maas, "Abortion Doctor Stabbed in B.C.". Globe and Mail, July 12, 2000, page A3
  9. ^ Estanislao Oziewicz, "Potential Jurors Must Reveal Abortion Views". Globe and Mail, March 4, 2003, page A3
  10. ^ Michael Beebe, "Round Two for James Kopp: Anti-Abortion Activist Goes on Trial Again This Week for the Sniper Death of and Amherst Abortion Provider", The Buffalo News, pg. 1, January 7, 2007

External links[edit]