For the second time, James C. Kopp has been convicted on charges related to the killing of an abortion provider back in 1998. This time, the verdict was delivered by a federal jury, and it should write the final chapter in a nearly 10-year ordeal.
While it's true that a guilty verdict in the Kopp trial appeared all but guaranteed, given his qualified admission, the time and cost associated with judging a man already convicted on a state murder charge was justified by the need to uphold the law and the differing guidelines for sentencing.
Kopp was convicted this time on two charges, interfering with reproductive services -- a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act -- and using a firearm to commit a violent act. The charges differ from the state penal law murder charge for which Kopp was convicted in Erie County Court -- the first trial stemming from the shooting of Dr. Barnett A. Slepian on Oct. 23, 1998.
Kopp already is serving 25 years to life on that murder conviction. Kopp faces a mandatory sentence of life without parole on the federal charge. He will serve his time in a federal prison, not a state one.
The finality of that sentence -- even though many saw little chance Kopp would be granted parole even in his 70s -- provides some relief for the family of Slepian, an obstetrician/gynecologist who also performed abortions in a Main Street clinic. At the very least, Lynne Slepian and her sons can be spared the possibility of future parole hearings.
Despite legal rulings that limited the justification case Kopp wanted to present, he did have his day in court and was able, through his own testimony, to make that argument to the jury. He also called character witnesses. The jury took only about four hours of deliberating to reject that defense and his contention that he shot only to wound, despite the legal complexities of the process.
Kopp has exhausted his appeals on the state charge. Barring a federal appeal, there is one final step yet to take -- a sentencing hearing before Judge Richard J. Arcara on June 19. And then justice takes its course.