Sun, May 11, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Gunman sentenced for killing US doctor to stop abortions


An opponent of abortion who fatally shot an obstetrician in the doctor's suburban home was given the maximum sentence of 25 years to life on Friday, after a rambling 90-minute speech in which he exhorted his "younger brothers and sisters in the movement" to carry on his crusade.

In his first courtroom statement in the internationally noted murder case, the defendant, James Kopp, said in Erie County Court here that he tracked the victim, Dr. Barnett Slepian, to his home in October 1998 with the intent not to kill but to maim him to prevent him from performing more abortions.

"There are 100 ways to kill someone if that's what you want to do -- blow up their car, shoot them in the head, run them over with your car," said Kopp, who said he had aimed for Slepian's shoulder. "To wound someone in a way that only injures them, that's tricky to do."

But Judge Michael D'Amico rejected that claim, and defense pleas for leniency. "It's clear that the action was premeditated," he said. "It's inconceivable to me that you would not have expected that your actions would have resulted in Dr. Slepian's death." The judge added, "The pursuit of one's goals and objectives, no matter how moral or just you may believe them to be, does not allow you to inflict violence on someone else."

Kopp, 48, was expressionless as he was sentenced, and his lawyer, Bruce Barket, said they had expected the maximum penalty, even though the judge could have given him as little as 15 years to life. Slepian's widow, Lynne, sat in the front row with three of the couple's four sons but did not address the court and left afterward without comment.

The case took more than four years to bring to court, and required a manhunt that tracked Kopp to France. But the proceedings are far from over. Barket said an appeal of the state charges was planned.

Kopp has also been charged in the nonfatal shooting of an abortion doctor in Canada.

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