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FBI SEEKS MEXICAN AID TO FIND KOPP

The FBI is asking newspapers, television stations and radio stations in Mexico to assist in the manhunt for James C. Kopp, an anti-abortion activist who is sought for questioning in the sniper murder of Dr. Barnett A. Slepian.

Authorities confirmed Friday that press packets -- including Kopp's photo and information on his possible connections to the Slepian slaying -- were sent to the news media in Mexico.

Federal agents are hoping the Mexican media will publish the information and the public there will respond with tips about Kopp's whereabouts. Information about Kopp already has been circulated throughout the United States and Canada.

"We sent media packets down there and hopefully it will help. Mexico is a big country," said Michael A. Mason, assistant special agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI office.

Mason said he has not yet learned whether the Mexican media will cooperate. He emphasized that authorities are not certain whether Kopp is hiding out in Mexico.

"We aren't saying we've concluded he is down there, but we're looking for information from anywhere that we think there is any possibility he has gone. So far, we haven't received any solid information on where he might be."

Top-level Mexican law enforcement officials have been asked to assist in the search for Kopp, Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark said.

Kopp's arrest is sought in a material witness warrant obtained in early November by federal prosecutors in Buffalo. The search later expanded to Mexico, after police were told Kopp may have been driven to that country by a woman friend.

Several investigators confided Friday that they are not optimistic about receiving help from Mexican authorities. They noted that Mexico is staunchly opposed to abortion and that its police agencies have been tarnished by several high-profile scandals in recent years.

"The Mexican police do not have a sterling record of accomplishments, let's put it that way," one law enforcement official told The Buffalo News. "Do I think they are searching the highways and by-ways for a man wanted as a witness in Buffalo? I doubt it."

Mexican officials decline to say what -- if anything -- is being done to look for Kopp.

Police in Matamoros, a Mexican city near the Mexico-Texas border, said they were unaware of Kopp and had not received any requests from their government to look for him.

Jose Antonio Zabalgoitia, minister of information at the Mexican Embassy in Washington, said -- after checking with law enforcement officials in Mexico -- that he is unaware of what is being done.

"I cannot confirm if U.S. authorities have said he is in Mexico and I cannot confirm if they have asked us to help in his capture," Zabalgoitia said. "If something is being done, maybe it is being done at a low level in the bureaucracy."

Zabalgoitia added that Mexican authorities are willing to help U.S. police whenever possible. He noted that Mexican police extradited 23 individuals to the U.S. in 1998.

"We want to cooperate with the U.S. against crime as much as possible," Zabalgoitia stressed. "Murder is murder, in both countries."

A Texas sheriff observed, however, that suspects sought in murder cases here frequently flee to Mexico.

The reason, he said, is that Mexico is strongly opposed to the death penalty, and its government will not extradite someone to face a death penalty prosecution.

Criminals wanted for murder know this, and that is why some choose Mexico as their hideout, said Zapata County Sheriff Sigi Gonzalez.

"We've seen many cases where this has happened," said Gonzalez, whose jurisdiction is a small county near Laredo, near the Texas-Mexico border.

"If Mexican authorities know that prosecutors in the U.S. are seeking the death penalty, they absolutely will not extradite. We've had a number of cases, just in the past few months, where guys wanted for murder have gone into Mexico."

Gonzalez said his department has not been asked to look for Kopp.

Some detectives speculate that Mexico, with approximately 94 million people and roughly three times the size of Texas, might be a perfect hideout for Kopp.

One knowledgeable source said the country's methods of searching for criminals are extremely primitive in comparison to the computerized techniques used in the U.S. and Canada. Rather than involving police agencies all over the country, the Mexicans usually assign one squad of officers to search for a fugitive suspect.

Clark said he hopes the Mexicans are actively pursuing Kopp. He commended the FBI for enlisting the aid of the news media.

"Anything we can do to encourage the Mexican government to assist, I'm in favor of," Clark said. "You wonder, at this point, how much time and effort they will expend working on someone else's problem -- our problem."

Meanwhile, Slepian's widow said she is convinced police will solve her husband's murder. Lynne Slepian did not specify whether any particular developments in the case led her to become more confident.

"I'm 100 percent confident that all the law-enforcement parties involved will catch this person, convict him and properly punish him," Mrs. Slepian said. "I have absolute faith in them."

Slepian, a father of four, performed a wide range of medical services for women, including abortions. He was shot in his Amherst home Oct. 23, after he and his family returned from a religious service honoring his late father.

Approximately $800,000 in rewards have been posted for information leading to convictions in the Slepian murder and a series of unsolved shootings of abortion doctors in Canada.

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