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National NOW Times >> Spring 2003 >> Article

Kopp Guilty in Murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian

by Bushra Khan, Communications Intern

After nearly five years, the man who shot and killed Dr. Barnett Slepian, an ob-gyn in suburban Buffalo, N.Y., was found guilty.

James C. Kopp, an anti-abortion extremist, waived his right to a jury trial and was found guilty by an Erie County judge. He now faces a maximum sentence of 25 years to life on each of two charges: murder in the second degree and murder with depraved indifference for human life. The sentencing is set to take place on May 9.

Kopp also faces federal charges under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of using a weapon to cause a death. That trial has not yet been scheduled.

On Oct. 23, 1998, Kopp shot Slepian through the kitchen window of his home, with the doctor's wife and children nearby. Kopp admitted to the shooting in a 2002 interview, but insisted that his intention was to injure—not murder—the doctor, so he would stop performing abortions.

Prosecutor Joseph Marusak argued that Slepian's murder was planned. The high-power assault rifle Kopp used was purchased with a fake ID in a Tennessee pawnshop, and he practiced his aim in advance.

"I equate this to an act of religious terrorism," Marusak told the judge. "We've got someone shooting and killing in the name of God and the name of Jesus Christ."

Kopp left the United States after murdering Slepian; he was located and arrested in France in March 2001.

Kopp is also a suspect in four non-fatal shootings of abortion providers in Canada and Rochester, N.Y. between 1994 and 1997—he is charged in one of them.

"The shooting of Dr. Slepian illustrates a key strategy of the so-called pro-lifers: murder and terrorize doctors and clinic staffers in order to drive them out of business," said NOW Membership Vice President Terry O'Neill. "We must continue to ensure that abortion is not only legal but also accessible—otherwise women simply have no choice."

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