Abortion sniper asks for mercy in federal trial
Anti-abortion extremist James Kopp stood trial Tuesday on a charge prosecutors hope will keep himjailed forever, even though the convicted killer is already serving a life sentence for the sniper slaying of an abortion provider.
In a Buffalo courtroom Tuesday, Kopp spoke for about 45 minutes, often rambling about his duty to shoot Dr. Barnett Slepian in Amherst, N.Y., in order to stop the obstetrician from carrying out abortions.
The judge interrupted Kopp several times during his statement, as Kopp had lost his bid earlier to appeal to the jury on the grounds of the so-called "necessity defence" to justify the killing.
Kopp, 52, is defending himself in the federal case against charges he violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1998, when he gunned down Dr. Barnett Slepian in Amherst, N.Y.
Although he was convicted for second-degree murder three years ago and is serving a 25-year life sentence, a conviction in the federal trial would mean Kopp would serve his time in the federal system, which does not offer parole. Lawyers will argue that by killing Slepian and using a firearm, Kopp used force to interfere with legal reproductive services protectedunder the act.
Slepian was preparing soup in his kitchen in October 1998 when Kopp fired a bullet from the woods more than 30 metres away, striking Slepian's shoulder through a window and killing him. His family rushed to his side, but he died in hospital within hours. Kopp fled to France, where he was arrested in 2001 and extradited to the U.S.
Asks for mercy, OPP attends
In court Tuesday, Kopp asked for mercy from the jury and said he respected the Slepian family, calling the shooting death a "tragedy," as he had merely intended to wound Slepian so the obstetrician could no longer perform abortions.
Slepian's widow, Lynne Slepian, was the first witness in the trial following opening statements, and was asked to recount the night of the murder. Kopp, who was representing himself, had the right to cross-examine her and chose not to ask any questions, but said he was sorry for what happened.
Two Ontario Provincial Police officers also attended the trial in Buffalo, as Canadian police are very interested in Kopp as the prime suspect in similar but nonfatal Canadian shootings in the 1990s. Doctors in Vancouver, Ancaster, Ont., and Winnipeg were all wounded in their homes by a sniper under the cover of darkness.
Kopp was charged with attempted murder in the 1995 Ancaster shooting of Dr. Hugh Short. But it is unlikely he will ever face justice on the Canadian front if he serves a life sentence in a U.S. federal prison.