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GAG ORDER ISSUED IN KOPP CASE

A week after James C. Kopp's confession in The Buffalo News that he shot and killed Dr. Barnett A. Slepian, the judge in his murder trial today issued a gag order on all attorneys, investigators and Kopp himself.

Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico issued the order at the request of the district attorney's office, but Kopp's attorney, Bruce A. Barket, said he agreed with its terms.

"The only thing we can talk about is what happens in open court," Deputy District Attorney Joseph J. Marusak said after today's court session.

Marusak submitted a lengthy legal memorandum to the court outlining the massive publicity the case has received since Slepian's October 1998 murder, and the concerns it might be difficult to select an impartial jury. Last week's News story with Kopp's confession, Marusak said, was in the package given the judge.

John V. Elmore, a veteran Buffalo attorney specializing in criminal defense and civil rights, also appeared in court today as he joined the Kopp defense team.

Elmore, 46, confirmed Monday that he will be the local counsel for the accused sniper in his upcoming murder case in Erie County Court. He will assist Barket, a Long Island attorney who is an outspoken foe of abortion.

There are two points of irony in Elmore's entry into the case -- his own father was shot by a sniper in 1974, and one of his recent clients was a Buffalo man who pleaded guilty to felony abortion and assault after beating up his pregnant girlfriend to induce an abortion.

During a brief interview, Elmore declined to discuss his personal history, his own views on abortion or his specific reasons for joining the Kopp defense team.

"I'm only going to say that our justice system won't work unless you have lawyers who are willing to take on controversial cases, regardless of how popular or unpopular a client may be," Elmore said. "Everyone deserves the opportunity to be aggressively defended. That's always been my philosophy."

District Attorney Frank J. Clark said prosecutors are asking D'Amico to "place some limits" on what participants in the case can say publicly. Clark said prosecutors are concerned about the effects of pretrial publicity on potential jurors.

"We still have to pick a jury, and there has been a tremendous amount of publicity and controversy," Clark said. "We're not asking for a total gag order. We'd just like people to confine their comments to the facts of the case. The decision is totally up to Judge D'Amico. We're only making a request."

Clark said he is aware of Elmore's addition to the defense team. "My only reaction is that John Elmore is a fine, experienced defense lawyer. If I were a defendant, I'd feel very comfortable having him represent me," Clark said.

Friends describe Elmore as a caring, hardworking lawyer who has devoted much of his life outside the legal arena to coaching and youth-mentoring programs.

"I don't have any idea about John's views on abortion. He never discusses it," said David Feldman, a Buffalo attorney who is Elmore's longtime friend and shares office space with him. "What I do know is that he is a fine person and lawyer; someone who fights for all his clients."

A lawyer since 1984, Elmore has represented numerous clients in homicides and other felony crimes all over Western New York. He is a graduate of Syracuse University Law School and is a former New York State trooper.

Elmore is a past president of the Minority Bar Association of Western New York and a former attorney for the NAACP. He has received the NAACP's Medgar Evers Civil Rights Award, the Buffalo News Citizen of the Year award and the Erie County Bar Association's Criminal Justice Award.

Perhaps Elmore's most highly publicized case was his defense of Jonathan Parker in Erie County's first death penalty case in 40 years. On Oct. 24, 1998 -- the morning after Slepian was killed -- Parker was sentenced to life in prison for the slaying of Buffalo Police Officer Charles "Skip" McDougald.

McDougald was shot dead in April 1997 after trying to question Parker about a stolen van. Elmore and co-counsel James P. Harrington succeeded in persuading jurors not to send Parker to his death.

Earlier this year, Elmore represented Jeremy Powell, 20, a Buffalo man who beat his girlfriend in late January with the intention of causing her to lose her child. After a rare conviction on a felony abortion charge, Powell was sentenced last July to six months in jail. Elmore described Powell as a person with emotional and psychiatric problems. Authorities said it was the first criminal conviction for abortion in the state in 30 years.

In December 1974, Elmore's father, Herbert Elmore, was one of 14 people shot by Anthony Barbaro, a sniper who fired from the top floor of Olean High School. Three of the victims were killed.

Herbert Elmore, Olean's first African-American firefighter, was hit in the head and forced to retire with a disability pension.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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