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James Charles KOPP





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Anti-abortion activist - Sniper-shooting
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 23, 1998
Date of arrest: March 29, 2001 (in the French town of Dinan, Brittany)
Date of birth: August 2, 1954
Victim profile: Dr. Barnett Slepian, 52 (physician who performed abortions)
Method of murder: Shooting (rifle)
Location: Amherst, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to 25 years to life, on May 9, 2003

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James Charles Kopp (born in Pasadena, California on August 2, 1954) is an American citizen who was convicted in 2003 for the 1998 sniper-style slaying of Dr. Barnett Slepian, an Amherst, New York physician 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 anti-abortion activist group "The Lambs of Christ." He has been referred to as a terrorist by the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.

Early Life

James Kopp was raised Lutheran, but later converted to Roman Catholicism.

The Murder

On October 23, 1998, at approximately 10:00 p.m., Dr. Barnett Slepian was standing in the kitchen of his home in Amherst, New York. Kopp fired a single rifleshot from a nearby wooded area, which entered the Slepian home through a rear window. Dr. 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.


Kopp fled to Mexico under an assumed name and later to Ireland. While staying in Ireland, Kopp began practicing Traditionalist Catholicism. After his arrest, his fellow parishioners at the Society of Saint Pius X's Chapel in Dún Laoghaire were shocked to learn his real identity. He eventually went on to live in France.

On March 29, 2001, Kopp was arrested by French law enforcement in the French town of Dinan, Brittany.

The United States requested his extradition and 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 US, despite the fact that the murder charge Kopp faced was a state charge over which Ashcroft had no jurisdiction and that he did so 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. The instruction chamber of the Rennes court of appeals ruled in favor of extradition; however, Kopp appealed the ruling.


In May 2002, Kopp waived all possible appeals in France and agreed to return to the US, which he did in June.

Trial and Conviction

On March 11, 2003, Kopp surprised observers by waiving 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 innocent based on a single document of facts.

In addition, the judge could not consider lesser charges; he would have to find Kopp guilty or not guilty of second-degree murder. Since Kopp had confessed his role in the shooting to police (claiming that he only meant to wound Slepian) Judge D'Amico found him guilty and sentenced him to the maximum, 25 years to life, on May 9, 2003, telling 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".

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, upheld the conviction on July 7, 2006 (Shawn P. Hennessy, attorney for respondent and Timothy Murphy, attorney for appellant).

Appeal to Federal Court

Kopp has appealed to Federal court. Thes trial is now underway and Judge Richard Arcara was selected to preside. Arcara has limited what Kopp can say on the stand and also has prohibited Kopp from showing pictures of aborted fetuses. As in any case, there is also a limitation to witness' accounts. If found guilty in Federal court, Kopp faces a mandatory life sentence.

Kopp is accused of violating the Clinic Entrances Act and using a weapon in the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian. Kopp has chosen to act as his own attorney. On day two of Kopp's federal trial during cross examination, Kopp attempted to have the court reporter of his previous state trial read back statements pertaining to abortion.

Judge Arcara precluded this, holding that under the Federal Rules of Evidence Kopp is barred from stating anti-abortion, religious or moral reasoning for his actions. Kopp had attempted to tell the jury why he did what he did because he claims it pertains to the issue of intent.

Kopp was also charged in U.S. District Court in Buffalo on a count of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Kopp has dismissed his court-assigned attorney, an assistant federal public defender, and represented himself. On June 20th, 2007 he was sentenced to life-imprisonment plus ten 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. U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara told Kopp as the end of the trial:

“You served as prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner. You decided that you know better than any law.”

In 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 he planned the shooting for a year and fired a high-powered rifle with telescopic sights, but he only meant to wound the doctor (to keep him from performing abortions). Pre-meditation, according to Kopp means that you:

"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"

Other crimes?

It is possible that the killing of Slepian was not Kopp's only crime. The FBI notes "(t)he shooting was similar to shootings in Rochester, New York, and three Canadian cities during the fall of 1997, in which abortion doctors were shot in their homes." Kopp has been charged by Canadian authorities in the 1995 shooting of Ontario doctor Hugh Short, one of a string of Remembrance Day shootings.

Allies on the Lamm

Kopp had not been evading justice on his own. He received help from sympathetic anti-abortion activists Loretta Marra and Dennis Malvasi, who pled guilty to one count of conspiracy in helping Kopp avoid capture. On August 21, 2003, they were sentenced to time served, and released.



Abortion Doctor's Murderer Convicted Again

Jury Finds James Kopp Guilty On Federal Murder Charges Stemming From 1998 Sniper Attack

Buffalo, N.Y., Jan. 25, 2007

(AP) - A man already serving time in a state prison for the sniper-shooting death of a doctor was convicted Thursday on a federal charge of targeting and killing the man because he provided abortions.

The jury deliberated about four hours over two days before deciding James Kopp violated the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in the 1998 slaying of Dr. Barnett Slepian.

Kopp, who represented himself during the two-week trial, tried to convince jurors during his closing arguments that he didn't mean to kill Slepian when he fired from woods into the doctor's Amherst home. Kopp said he intended only to wound him to prevent him from performing abortions the next day.

"If it happened the way I wanted it to, he would have his arm in a sling," said Kopp, who is serving a 25-year-to-life state sentence. He faces life in prison without parole for the federal conviction.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Mehltretter argued Kopp's long and careful planning of the shooting and his choice of weapon — a Russian military assault rifle — proved his deadly intent.

"If you want to injure a person, you don't shoot them with a high-powered rifle," Mehltretter said.

Kopp fled to Mexico, Ireland and France, where he was captured in March 2001. He had been added to the FBI's list of the 10 Most Wanted fugitives in June 1999.



Abortion Doc's Killer Gets 25 To Life

James Kopp Sentenced For Shooting Abortion Provider In His Home

Buffalo, N.Y., May 9, 2003

The anti-abortion activist who shot Dr. Barnett Slepian through the window of his suburban Buffalo home in 1998 was given the maximum sentence allowed, 25 years to life, Friday. James Kopp still faces a federal trial.

Convicted in March of second-degree murder, Kopp, 48, could have received a minimum of 15 years in prison.

"It's clear the act is premeditated, there is no doubt about it," Erie County Court Judge Michael D'Amico told Kopp. "You made an attempt to avoid responsibility for the act. What may appear righteous to you is immoral to someone else."

The anti-abortion extremist, who did not testify at his murder trial, addressed the court before he was sentenced, saying he had only meant to wound Slepian. Lynne Slepian and three of the couple's four sons were in the courtroom.

"Why should the safety of Dr. Slepian be put over the safety of unborn children?" Kopp said.

"I was innocent of murder then. I am innocent of murder now," he said.

"I have separated murderers from their weapons of mass destruction. I wish I could do 10 life sentences or 10 death penalties to save them," he said, referring to unborn children.

Prosecutor Joseph Marusak said Lynne Slepian, along with other family members, submitted letters to the judge in advance of the sentencing.

The prosecutor said the law prevented him from revealing the contents of pre-sentencing letters.

Kopp had admitted to firing the fatal shot from a rifle equipped with a scope.

Kopp still faces a federal trial for interfering with the right to an abortion. He's also a suspect in the nonfatal shootings of four other abortion providers in Canada and western New York between 1994 and 1997.

The National Abortion Federation, an abortion rights group, also submitted a letter, urging Judge Michael D'Amico to impose the maximum sentence as a deterrent to similar crimes.

"A strong message must be sent to anti-choice extremists that murdering an abortion provider is never justifiable," said Vicki Saporta, the organization's president and chief executive.

Kopp was convicted following an unusual one-day non-jury trial. At Kopp's request, instead of hearing witness testimony, D'Amico was presented with a 35-page list of facts agreed to by both sides — including an admission by Kopp that he fired the shot that struck Slepian.

Barket had argued that Kopp, who believed in the use of force to prevent abortions, meant only to wound the 52-year-old obstetrician/gynecologist.

Marusak countered that Kopp's actions, including his choice of weapon — a Russian-made, scope-equipped assault rifle — and the use of aliases in buying it, pointed to an intention to kill.

Kopp was lying in wait behind Slepian's suburban Amherst home Oct. 23, 1998, and fired once through a rear kitchen window after the doctor returned from a memorial service for his father. Slepian's wife and four sons were home at the time.

A suspect soon after the shooting, Kopp fled to Mexico and then Ireland and was one of the FBI's most-wanted fugitives until his capture in France in 2001.

He is a suspect in the nonfatal shootings of four other abortion providers in Canada and Rochester between 1994 and 1997.



Doctor’s Killer Tries to Make Abortion the Issue

By David Staba - The New York Times

BUFFALO, Jan. 12 — There is no dispute over how Dr. Barnett Slepian died. Yet eight years later his confessed killer — who is already serving 25 years to life in prison for murder — is on trial for a second time.

Dr. Slepian’s killer, James C. Kopp, 52, has freely admitted that on a Friday evening in the autumn of 1998, he leaned against a tree behind the suburban home of the doctor, who performed abortions as part of his practice, and followed his prey through the scope of a high-powered rifle.

Dr. Slepian, the married father of four young sons, entered the kitchen after returning home from a memorial service for his father, put a bowl of soup in a microwave oven and walked to a desk in the corner of the kitchen where he routinely put his keys, wallet and pager.

With that, Mr. Kopp, a longtime opponent of abortion whose beliefs earned him the nickname Atomic Dog among like-minded people, squeezed the trigger and fired.

The single shot broke the kitchen window and struck Dr. Slepian under his left shoulder blade, tore through his chest and exited from his right shoulder, then ricocheted past his wife and two of their sons, finally lodging in the fireplace of the living room, where a third son was watching television.

About an hour later, the 52-year-old doctor was declared dead.

Mr. Kopp, who traveled from his home in Jersey City to the Buffalo area weeks before the shooting to track Dr. Slepian and make meticulous preparations, including burying the rifle in a plastic sleeve behind the house so he could easily get to it, fled to Mexico, then France. He was captured there in March 2001.

In March 2003 Mr. Kopp was convicted of murder by an Erie County judge after an unusual proceeding in which he did not dispute the prosecution’s version of events. Yet he insisted he was not guilty of murder because he did not mean to kill the doctor but only to wound him to prevent him from performing abortions.

Nonetheless, he is back in court because of the same crime.

The difference is that this time Mr. Kopp is not charged with the murder of Dr. Slepian, but with violating a 1994 law forbidding the use of force to prevent access to reproductive health care. The federal law was enacted in reaction to violent attacks on abortion clinics and health care workers, as well as escalating protests, like the 1993 demonstrations in Buffalo known as “The Spring of Life,” which attracted thousands of demonstrators on both sides of the issue and led to hundreds of arrests.

In this instance, Dr. Slepian’s family and supporters of abortion rights pushed for this case to go forward, in part because unlike the state’s murder conviction, the federal law carries a potential sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Under New York State law, it’s conceivable that someday a parole board could release him,” said Charles Ewing, a professor at the University at Buffalo’s law school. “As a practical matter, I don’t think that would ever happen.”

Professor Ewing said that although the filing of both state and federal charges is common in cases involving such crimes as bank robbery and child pornography, a conviction in one jurisdiction usually leads to a dismissal in the other.

“It seems in this case they’re clearly trying to make an example by prosecuting him in both state and federal courts,” Professor Ewing said.

The trial in Federal District Court has also provided Mr. Kopp, a former construction worker who is acting as his own attorney, the chance to try to discuss his views on abortion, even though Judge Richard J. Arcara has repeatedly ordered him not to.

The judge’s pretrial rulings that the defense could not make the issue the centerpiece of its case, including his refusal to allow Mr. Kopp to show the anti-abortion movie “The Silent Scream” to the jury, have not stopped the defendant from trying.

“If I’m guilty, weakness is guilty,” Mr. Kopp, a slight man in an oversize dark blue suit coat and glasses, said in his opening statement on Tuesday. “If I’m guilty, innocence is guilty. Those who can’t protect themselves ——”

Judge Arcara cut him off, the sixth time Mr. Kopp’s opening was interrupted, either from the bench or by a sustained objection from the prosecution.

The judge ruled that references to Mr. Kopp’s views on abortion he made in a rambling 90-minute presentencing statement in 2003 were “irrelevant” to this case. The decision prompted one man seated two rows behind Lynne Slepian, Dr. Slepian’s widow, to shout, “Judge, what are they irrelevant to?” before he was escorted from the courtroom.

When Dan Herbeck, a reporter for The Buffalo News to whom Mr. Kopp gave a jailhouse confession in an article published in November 2002, testified about the article, Mr. Kopp made numerous attempts to bring up quotations related to his beliefs. Each time, the prosecution objected successfully, on several occasions before he even finished his question.

Professor Ewing said Mr. Kopp’s best chance to air his views could come in his closing statement, when lawyers are generally given more leeway than during testimony. The trial is expected to last about two more weeks.

“I don’t think that this defendant feels there’s a lot at stake in terms of winning or losing,” he said.


Murder of New York abortion doctor denounced as 'terrorism'

Reno vows to do 'whatever it takes' to track down killer

October 24, 1998 -

AMHERST, New York (CNN) -- A doctor who performed abortions was shot to death by a sniper in his western New York home Friday night in an attack denounced as "terrorism" by the state's governor.

"It's beyond a tragedy. It's really an act of terrorism and, in my mind, a cold-blooded assassination," Gov. George Pataki said of the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian.

In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno issued a statement saying federal law enforcement officials "will do whatever it takes to track down and prosecute whoever is responsible for this murder."

While local police have not discussed a motive, Reno said the Justice Department is "actively investigating the possibility that Dr. Slepian was murdered because of his work providing abortion service."

"The federal government will continue its vigilant defense of constitutionally protected rights to provide and to obtain reproductive health service," Reno said.

Shooter remains at large

Slepian, 51, who has been the target of anti-abortion protesters since the 1980s, was killed by a single bullet fired through his kitchen window at about 10 p.m. EDT, as he and his family returned from synagogue to their home in Amherst, a suburb of Buffalo. His wife and four sons were not injured.

Slepian's killer fired from behind a backyard fence. A helicopter search for the suspect was fruitless, and the shooter remained at large Saturday.

The slaying came just days after authorities warned abortion providers in the area to be on guard for possible violence. Since 1994, there have been four other sniper attacks -- one in Rochester and three across the border in Canada -- that all took place in early autumn.

None of the previous attacks killed anyone. All occurred within weeks of November 11, Veterans Day.

"There's some type of connection on the date. We don't know what it is," said Inspector David Bowen of the Hamilton-Wentworth police department in Ontario.

Doctors in area were given warning

Royal Canadian Mounted Police officials have said they believe the same people were responsible for all of the earlier attacks. On Tuesday, Canadian and American authorities issued safety tips to abortion providers throughout the region.

"They were told to stay away from windows that weren't covered with curtains or blinds and to be aware of their surroundings and anything suspicious at their clinics," said Frank Olesko, Amherst's assistant police chief.

On Saturday, security was stepped up at Buffalo GYN Women's Services, the clinic where Slepian worked and the only clinic providing abortions in Buffalo.

Slepian "was one of the few physicians with the integrity to stand up for what he believed in," said clinic spokeswoman Susan Ward. "He was a strong supporter of women's right to choose. He had some fearfulness, I'm sure, but he was determined to continue the work he was doing and was not going to let extremists interfere."

Abortion rights forces call for more protection

Outraged by Slepian's death, abortion rights advocates called on law enforcement officials to step up their protection of doctors and clinics who provide abortions to women.

"We are very upset. We are seeing extremists using bullets and bombs to get their way in our democracy," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "We believe the authorities must consider this political terrorism and act as if it is."

"No matter where we stand on the issue of abortion, all Americans must stand together in condemning this tragic and brutal act," President Clinton, an abortion-rights supporter, said in a statement from the White House.

"For anyone to take it upon himself to be judge, jury and executioner is nothing but sheer evil," said Karen Swallow Prior, who is running for lieutenant governor of New York on the ticket of the anti-abortion Right-to-Life Party.

The Rev. Flip Benham, national director of Operation Rescue, another anti-abortion group, said his organization did not support Slepian's killing, even though the doctor "murdered countless thousands of innocent children."

"He has been a killer for a long time .... (but) I am sad to learn of his death," Benham said.

Doctor targeted by Operation Rescue in 1992

Slepian has been the target of anti-abortion protesters since the 1980s. In 1988, as his family opened gifts during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, protesters in front of his home taunted him, calling him a "murderer." An altercation ensued in which one of the protesters claimed Slepian attacked him with a baseball bat.

A misdemeanor assault charge against Slepian was settled in March 1989. The doctor paid about $400 for repairs to a van and for part of the man's medical bills.

In 1992, Slepian closed his Amherst office during a protest by Operation Rescue in the Buffalo area. At the time, he said he closed the office to avoid inconveniencing other doctors in his building, but he vowed to continue providing abortions at his Buffalo clinic.

"He said, 'They're not going to scare me. They're not going to threaten me,'" said Harvey Rogers, Slepian's lawyer.

As police looked for clues Saturday, neighbors lamented the loss of a friendly guy who always built elaborate Halloween displays.

"This is sad, to kill someone to prove a point,' said neighbor Suby Shastry. "He has a family, too. Killing someone doesn't solve a problem."


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