Abortion Doctor Slaying Suspect Caught

ByABC News

March 29, 2001 -- Anti-abortion rights activist James C. Kopp has been arrested in France and faces extradition in connection with the 1998 sniper killing of abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian, Justice Department officials said today.

Acting on information from the FBI, French law enforcement officials apprehended Kopp in Dinan, in the Brittany region of France, today after a two-year international manhunt for the murder suspect.

Kopp, one of the FBI's "Most Wanted Fugitives," was indicted by a federal grand jury last October and an Erie County, N.Y., grand jury in 1999 in connection with Slepian's slaying. He was arrested without incident and was unarmed, according to the FBI.

Slepian, 52, was killed in his Buffalo, N.Y.-area kitchen by a single shotfrom a high-powered rifle on Oct. 23, 1998.

In Washington today, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the United States is working with France to extradite Kopp to face charges here. "Violence is not a way to resolve our differences," he said.

At the same press conference, FBI Director Louis Freeh said the bureau is now investigating individuals within the United States who may have helped Kopp stay on the lam. Two individuals in New York City are under arrest for harboring Kopp, officials in Buffalo said this afternoon.

Before Kopp's arrest, the FBI investigation determined he was waiting for funds and was about to leave France.

Kopp Wanted in Other Shootings

FBI agents in Buffalo said Kopp had been living in Ireland for about a year, living in hostels and doing clerical work. Kopp left the country for France on March 12 with Irish authorities on his trail, FBI Agent Joel Mercer said.

Kopp, 46, has been a central figure on the violent fringe of the anti-abortion rights movement for many years. He has been known to use at least 28 aliases and was arrested in several states since 1990 for his aggressive anti-abortion tactics.

Federal investigators have fielded tips on Kopp's whereabouts from all over the world during their search for the fugitive, and received critical assistance from officials in Canada, Ireland, France and the United Kingdom, Freeh said.

Kopp, who is from Vermont, is also wanted for questioning in a 1997 incident in which an unnamed Rochester, N.Y., abortion doctor was shot at in his home.

In Canada, authorities issued a nationwide arrest warrant last year charging Kopp with attempted murder in the 1995 shooting of Dr. Hugh Short, who was wounded in the elbow at his home in Ancaster, Ontario. Kopp has also been formally labeled a suspect in the shootings of two other Canadian abortion providers.

Besides Slepian, seven other doctors have been shot at in the U.S. and Canada since 1993. Two of them — David Gunn and John Bayard Britton of Pensacola, Fla. — died. Several nurses, receptionists and security officers have also been killed or injured in clinic attacks.

Slepian on ‘Nuremberg Files’

Investigators identified Kopp as a subject after his 1987 black Chevrolet Cavalier was spotted in Slepian's neighborhood in the weeks before the shooting. Authorities have also linked a hair found near Slepian's home with Kopp through DNA testing.

The two-count federal indictment charges Kopp with violating thefederal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act by using deadly force to prevent Slepian from providing reproductive health services and using a firearm to commit a crime of violence.

The three-count Erie County indictment charges Kopp with second-degree murder, first-degree reckless endangerment and criminal possession of a weapon.

Both charges carry a penalty of up to life in prison. The federal charge also carries a fine of up to $250,000.

Kopp's arrest comes one day after a federal appeals court threw out a $109 million verdict against a group of anti-abortion rights activists who operated a Web site called the "Nuremberg Files" that listed the names and addresses of abortion providers.

Two years ago, a federal jury found that the site had illegally incited violence against abortion doctors and ordered the operators to play damages to Planned Parenthood and four doctors who had sued.

Jurors had been instructed by the judge to consider past violence in the anti-abortion rights movement, including the slaying of Slepian, who was one of the doctors on "The Nuremberg Files" Web site. His name was crossed out on the site the day he was killed.

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