Prosecutors say they will ask an Erie County grand jury to return a new set of indictments against James C. Kopp, following his confession this week that he shot and killed Dr. Barnett A. Slepian.
Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark confirmed Friday that a grand jury will convene Dec. 4 and that he has subpoenaed reporters from The Buffalo News, which broke the story Wednesday, and a tape recording from WGRZ-TV, which later aired a brief telephone conversation with Kopp.
"We're going to seek to supersede the existing indictment," Clark said. "We're going to ask the grand jury to consider a charge of depraved indifference murder."
Kopp, 47, was earlier indicted on a second-degree murder charge, accusing him of intending to kill Slepian by waiting in the woods behind his Amherst home and shooting him with a high-powered Soviet assault rifle.
But Kopp told The News he never intended to kill Slepian.
Clark, his top aides and Deputy District Attorney Joseph J. Marusak, who will try Kopp, decided to add the new murder charge based on Kopp's confession.
"The circumstances that changed are the pronouncements made by Mr. Kopp over the last several days when he said he had no intention to kill Dr. Slepian," Clark said. "The depraved indifference count takes away the intent."
Clark said prosecutors still are confident they can convict Kopp of the earlier intentional murder charge.
"It's not that we don't feel that's a valid theory," Clark said, "but based on his statements, he has provided an alternative theory." Clark said the new count of depraved indifference will be added to the earlier intentional murder charge.
The new count is also a second-degree murder charge and carries the same 25-years-to-life prison term.
Clark not only subpoenaed two Buffalo News reporters who conducted the interview, but also a tape recording aired late Wednesday night on WGRZ-TV.
The television station explained on its 11 p.m. newscast that the tape was made that day by WNBC-TV in New York City and was conducted by phone with Kopp from the Erie County Holding Center.
Clark said the tape recording was helpful, but he wanted particulars about the confession to The News because it was more comprehensive. His subpoena orders the two reporters to bring all notes and recordings with them.
Margaret M. Sullivan, editor and vice president of The News, said earlier that the newspaper would resist any efforts to make its reporters an arm of law enforcement.