- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

BUFFALO, N.Y., March 17 (UPI) — No witnesses testified Monday in the Buffalo, N.Y., stipulated bench trial of James Kopp, who is accused of killing abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian.

Erie County Court Judge Michael L. D'Amico heard Deputy District Attorney Joseph J. Marusak and defense attorney Bruce A. Barket submit into evidence 35 pages of stipulated facts and 45 exhibits that the prosecution and defense had agreed on.

"The gun was a killing weapon, the bullet a mini-supersonic missile," Marusak said. "Kopp was a cold, calculated assassin."

Kopp believed he was justified in using force in saving life and stressed that Kopp was only shooting to wound, according to Barket.

"If the judge acquits, he will be a hero for eternity," Barket said.

The anti-abortion activist, who has been arrested several times for attempting to block abortions at clinics, did not testify at Monday's trial, except to answer "Yes, your honor," several times in hushed tones to questions that the judge asked.

Barket said that Kopp was not waiving his right to challenge the same facts at future proceedings such as the upcoming federal trial.

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

Kopp, 48, pleaded innocent to both the state charge of intentional murder and the federal charge of interfering with the right to an abortion. If convicted of either charge, he faces 25 years to life in prison.

However, after Kopp gave a jailhouse interview to The Buffalo News admitting that he shot Slepian but that he did not intend to kill him, a charge of murder with depraved indifference to human life was added.

"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."

D'Amico is expected to sentence Kopp Tuesday.

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.

Sixty witnesses had been scheduled to testify at the jury trial. One witness who would have testified was a 14-year-old female who had been jogging in the Buffalo suburb of Amherst the night of the shooting.

Marusak read into the record that the teenager heard sirens and saw a man with a dark-hooded sweatshirt hiding in the bushes run and enter the passenger side of a car that had been parked in a driveway and then the car left.

"We have no idea who was in the car because it was not Jim who got into the car," Barket said. "There's not a shred of evidence as to whose car it was, who the individual was, and whether or not there was anybody else in it."

The Amherst police arrived at the Slepian home two minutes after Lynne Slepian called the police about the sniper shooting.

Some in the abortion rights movement are unhappy with the abbreviated trial that did not allow witnesses such as Slepian's widow who was to have said that her husband told her "I think I'm shot." Slepian died hours after being shot.

Abortion rights advocates said they were also unhappy that the network they believe assisted Kopp the night of the shooting and while he was a fugitive was not being named.

"We need to figure out who aided and abetted him and those people need to put behind bars," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. "We want to see justice done. We are concerned about a pattern we see that if someone is convicted, someone basically steps up and takes his place.

"We wanted to see what the evidence was here, and whether we would hear about the network of people who regularly aid and abet these people in committing these acts of violence."

The anti-abortion advocates said that Kopp was defending the rights of the unborn.

"Did he defend innocent children or did he not? And if he did, he should be acquitted," said the Rev. Michael Bray, leader of the Army of God anti-abortion group. "He didn't murder anyone, he defended the innocent."

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

Last Friday, another of Kopp's attorneys, John Elmore, asked to be released from the case because he disagreed with the trial strategy.

The evidence against Kopp included a strand of hair from a tree on which the shooter must have leaned against when the shot was fired.

Thirteen days after the shooting, the FBI found a plastic bag that contained an empty Remmington cartridge box for 7.62 cartridges, a pair of Tasco binoculars and other items, buried in the wooded area behind the Slepian home.

Five months after that hole was discovered, the FBI returned to the wooded area on April 8, 1999, and found in another hole a Russian-built SKS carbine automatic rifle buried with telescopic site and a cartridge catcher along with two pairs of gloves.

The gun was buried approximately 162 feet from the shooting site, wrapped in a rubber material and inserted in a cardboard tube.

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

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

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