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Jury rejects Kopp's defense Killer of doctor is found guilty on both counts

James C. Kopp failed to sway a single juror with his argument that he had a right to shoot Dr. Barnett A. Slepian to stop him from performing abortions.

Jurors also rejected Kopp's repeated contentions that he never meant to kill Slepian, only wound him, or that Slepian died because the bullet took what he called a crazy ricochet.

Kopp, 52, the itinerant anti-abortion activist known as "Atomic Dog," was convicted of both charges: interfering with reproductive services by violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and using a firearm to commit a violent act.

Jurors in the U.S. District Court trial deliberated for a little more than four hours over the last two days.

Kopp took the guilty verdict on both counts without reaction but asked Judge Richard J. Arcara to have each of the 12 jurors polled. They all then reaffirmed Kopp's guilt.

Kopp could face life in prison when he returns to Arcara's courtroom June 19 for sentencing. He already is serving 25 years to life on a state murder conviction in the Oct. 23, 1998, killing of Slepian, an obstetrician/gynecologist who also performed abortions in a Main Street clinic.

"We found him guilty; the evidence proved it," the jury's forewoman said as she left the courthouse.

"I think we went by the law," said a male juror who left with her.

For the federal government, the verdict ended a more than eight-year search for justice, as Kopp fled the country after the murder, was put on the FBI's Most Wanted List, was captured in France and was brought back here for trial.

"We're very pleased with today's verdict," said U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn, who inherited the Kopp prosecution when he took office less than a year ago.

"I believe it sends a strong message to everyone," Flynn said. "Violence is not the answer. You don't decide you are the judge, the jury and the executioner."

Lynne Slepian, whose husband died in her arms after he was shot by Kopp through a back window of their East Amherst home, seemed relieved after the verdict.

She smiled and shook a reporter's hand after the verdict was announced but left the courthouse with FBI agents without making any public comment.

"I don't know if it brings any closure," Flynn said. "She not only lost her husband, she lost the father of her four sons. She's had to be both mother and father for her sons."

Kopp, who represented himself, smiled and said, "God bless you" to a reporter as federal marshals led him out of the courtroom. But he declined to answer when asked what he thought of the verdict.

John F. Humann, a federal public defender who was appointed by Arcara as Kopp's stand-by legal adviser, said he believes that Kopp gave jurors "a lot to think about" during the trial.

"The jury was out for [most of] a day in a case where there wasn't any real question about what happened," Humann said. "That tells me he had them thinking about some things."

One juror during the polling seemed visibly shaken, and Kopp later put it on the record that he thought the juror was crying and initially unable to answer when polled.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin J. Littlefield, who met with jurors after the verdict, told reporters not to take too much significance in the woman's reaction.

"In 30 years of doing this," Littlefield said, "I have found that jurors take their jobs very seriously. When you pass judgment on someone, it can be very emotional."

Kopp has been in federal custody since his run from the law ended March 29, 2001, when French police arrested him in Dinan, France.

Flynn said Kopp would stay in custody and serve his term in a federal prison. It is uncertain whether Canada will have a chance to try him in the shootings of three Canadian doctors, cases in which he is a suspect.

Kathleen M. Mehltretter, the first assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Kopp, has been on the case since Kopp was named a suspect in November 1998. She later obtained his extradition from France.

She won rulings from Arcara that Kopp could not use a justification defense or that his shooting of Slepian was justified to stop abortion. Arcara ruled that there was no justification because abortion is legal and murder is not.

But despite the ruling and her numerous objections during the nearly three-week trial, Mehltretter listened as Kopp, piece by piece, got his argument across to the jury.

"I am very pleased the jury rejected his justification arguments," she said, "and I'm very pleased that we were able to return a verdict of guilty."

Kopp had been convicted in Erie County Court after his attorney, Bruce A. Barket, and county prosecutors agreed to a stipulated set of evidence.

But Mehltretter and Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin J. Littlefield, in all but a few instances at trial, refused Kopp's attempts to get them to agree to the testimony beforehand and have the jury read a stipulation.

"We felt if we stipulated to all of the evidence," she said, "that the jury would not have a true sense of the crime and the crime scene and the lengths he went to to plan and execute it. That would not come through in a cold stipulation."

"I think it was an excellent example of cooperative law enforcement," Mehltretter said. "And the FBI did a terrific job [when Kopp was a fugitive]."

A friend and supporter of Kopp's -- John Tomasello, 59, of Amherst -- said he "kind of expected" the guilty verdict.

Tomasello watched the trial every day and appeared as a character witness for Kopp. He said he considers Kopp a hero.

"[Prosecutors] described Jim as a coldblooded murderer, but people like Jim and me and many others in this country see the abortionist as a coldblooded murderer," Tomasello said. "The abortionist kills innocent American children every day."

Vicki Saporta, president and chief executive officer of the National Abortion Federation, said she fully expected the jury to return a guilty verdict because of the evidence. "[Kopp] planned this murder," she said, "and definitely should spend the rest of his life in prison."


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