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Modifying of Kopp's rifle shown by seller Testimony centers on murder weapon

The owner of a Tennessee pawnshop who sold the SKS assault rifle used to kill Dr. Barnett A. Slepian held the weapon in federal court Wednesday, testifying that it had been substantially modified since she sold it July 16, 1997.

Patricia Osborne, owner of the A to Z Pawnshop in Nashville, said a crudely made wooden stock extension and a blue cloth cartridge catcher had not been on the weapon when she sold it to a man who produced a Virginia driver's license as identification.

She said the SKS did not have a telescopic sight when it came from the manufacturer but could not recall whether this Russian-made rifle had one when she sold it.

"I've never seen one with those kinds of clamps, though," she said, pointing to small radiator hose clamps securing the scope to the weapon.

Osborne did not identify James C. Kopp in the courtroom as the man she sold the weapon to, having earlier told reporters she did not remember the man who bought the weapon. Federal prosecutors intend to call handwriting experts to link the application to Kopp.

Kopp has already done that himself.

Jurors, who seemed to show a great deal of interest in the assault weapon, earlier heard that Kopp told a Buffalo News reporter that he used fake identification to buy the weapon and customized it himself.

That testimony was part of the stipulated evidence used previously to convict Kopp of murder charges in Erie County Court for the murder of Slepian on Oct. 23, 1998, in his Amherst home.

Prosecutors, now in the second week of trial before U.S. District Richard J. Arcara, are trying to prove Kopp guilty of using force to interfere with reproductive services and using a firearm in an act of violence.

Conviction on the charges would carry a maximum term of life in prison for Kopp, who is representing himself in court. He already is serving 25 years to life on the state murder conviction.

Osborne testified that the man who bought the rifle for $175 plus tax had used a Virginia driver's license in the name of "B. James Milton" for identification.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen M. Mehltretter produced a certified statement from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, showing that no such license had been issued. She did the same for a Social Security number that was used on the federal form required to buy a firearm.

Prosecutors also called a Grand Island woman, Ruth Slepian, as a witness Wednesday. She said she knew of no connection that her husband had to Barnett Slepian.

Ruth Slepian did identify both her home telephone number and the Niagara Falls phone number of her family's pharmacy in Niagara Falls from the page of a small green notebook.

FBI Special Agent Barry Lee Bush had testified that he found the notebook during a court-approved search. He said that it was on the top of a closet in a Jersey City, N.J., apartment that had been rented to Kopp in the fall of 1998, using the name "Clyde Swenson."

Also on that same notebook page, Bush testified, was the name Barnett, the town Amherst and the office telephone number of Barnett Slepian.

Seth Grodsky, who was flown here from Israel to testify, said he rented the apartment to a man identifying himself as Swenson, whom he identified in court as Kopp. He said Kopp did some construction-related jobs for him in the apartment building.

"Good to see you again, Seth," Kopp said when it was his time to question him. "No questions, your honor."

Kopp also chose not to question any of the witnesses who identified his car as the one left abandoned at the Newark, N.J., airport after the Slepian shooting and offered to stipulate that it was his car.

As they have previously, prosecutors declined the offer and continued questioning witnesses.

The prosecution is expected to complete its case Friday. Kopp is scheduled to present his defense next week.

Arcara already ruled that Kopp cannot use any justification defenses -- that what he did was to prevent abortion -- and cannot address the issue of whether abortion is right or wrong.


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