On October 23, 1998, abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot and killed with a single bullet from a high-powered rifle through the window of his Amherst, NY, home while he was standing in the kitchen with his wife and children nearby. Similar shootings injured Dr. Garson Romalis in Vancouver, BC, on November 8, 1994, Dr. Hugh Short in Ancaster, ON, on November 10, 1995, an unnamed physician in Rochester, NY, on October 28, 1997, and Dr. Jack Fainman in Winnipeg, MB, on November 11, 1997.
On November 4, 1998, less than two weeks after the murder, a material witness warrant was issued for James Charles Kopp in connection with the shooting death of Dr. Slepian. The warrant was issued in response to reports that Kopp's car was seen in Dr. Slepian's neighborhood in the days prior to the shooting. Kopp's Chevy Cavalier was subsequently found abandoned at the Newark, New Jersey airport on December 18, 1998. It had fake license plates. Kopp is alleged to have fled to Mexico and then to Scotland, Ireland, and France. Jennifer Rock, a friend of Kopp's, testified in a pre-trial hearing that she drove Kopp to Mexico in November 1998 and along the way helped him to disguise his identity.
Kopp was officially charged with Dr. Slepian's murder on May 6, 1999. He was charged with 2nd degree murder in New York1 and was also charged federally with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act by using force to prevent a physician from providing reproductive health care services. Each federal charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Kopp was placed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List on June 7, 1999.
The Ontario Police issued an arrest warrant for Kopp on January 24, 2000, for the attempted murder of Dr. Hugh Short, who was shot in his home in November 1995. At that time he was also listed as a "person of interest" in the 1994 Vancouver, BC, shooting of Dr. Garson Romalis, and the 1997 Winnipeg, MB, shooting of Dr. Jack Fainman.
A federal grand jury in New York indicted Kopp in absentia for the murder of Dr. Slepian in October 2000.
Kopp was captured in Dinan, France on March 29, 2001. Prior to his capture, Kopp spent time in Ireland and possibly England and Scotland. Fellow extremists Dennis Malvasi and Loretta Marra were arrested shortly after Kopp for helping him while he was on the run. Kopp was attempting to pick up money that the pair had wired him when he was captured.
Kopp was extradited to the United States on June 5, 2002, after official assurance from the United States that the death penalty would not be sought in this case.
Kopp first retained attorney Paul Cambria to represent him. He then retained attorney Bruce Barket because Barket also had strong anti-abortion views and wanted to make the case about abortion. Cambria simply wanted to defend Kopp on the evidence. Barket was Kopp's attorney in the state murder case, which was being tried first, but a federal judge ruled that Barket could not represent Kopp in the federal trial due to a conflict of interest. Barket also represented Loretta Marra.
After Kopp retained Barket as his attorney, Barket sat with Kopp as he confessed to shooting Dr. Slepian in an interview with the Buffalo News on November 20, 2002. After Kopp confessed to the crime, prosecutors charged him with an additional charge of reckless murder with depraved indifference to human life.
Witnesses gave statements that they saw someone resembling Kopp jogging near the Slepian home in the days prior to the shooting. Witnesses also saw Kopp's car in Dr. Slepian's neighborhood in the weeks prior to the murder. A hair sample from the crime scene was matched to Kopp from a DNA sample taken from a toothbrush that investigators found in his last apartment. A gun was found buried at the crime scene and was linked to Kopp by the worker at the Tennessee shop that sold Kopp the gun. In addition, Kopp's Chevy was seen crossing into Canada near Niagara Falls after the 1997 Rochester, NY, shooting, and at the Canada/North Dakota border shortly after the 1997 Winnipeg shooting. His car was also seen in the Hamilton, ON, area before the Ancaster shooting.
James Kopp vehemently denied any involvement in Dr. Slepian's murder for months, going so far as to say that he fled because he believed the police had killed his friend and fellow anti-abortion protester Maurice Lewis and he feared for his own safety. Lewis was found dead in his truck in 1997 in Canada. His death was ruled accidental. Kopp was quoted as saying "I am innocent...I want my innocence recognized as soon as possible." Doris Grady, an associate of Kopp's, provided Kopp an alibi and told the police he could not possibly have purchased a gun in Tennessee at the time authorities allege because he was at her home in Pennsylvania during that time.
However, in an interview with the Buffalo News on November 20, 2002, James Kopp confessed to killing Dr. Slepian.
During the interview Kopp said, "I did it, and I'm admitting it. But I never, ever intended for Dr. Slepian to die." During the same interview, Kopp would not respond to a question regarding his involvement in the four similar shootings - three in Canada and one in the United States - but his attorney, Bruce Barket, said, "We'll defend one shooting at a time."
Referring to abortion providers, Kopp said, "They're still in danger, absolutely. I'm not the first, and I probably won't be the last." He continued, "To pick up a gun and aim it at another human being, and to fire, it's not a human thing to do. It's not nice. It's not pleasant. It's gory, it's bloody. It overcomes every human instinct. The only thing that would be worse, to me, would be to do nothing, and to allow abortions to continue." Kopp claims he wanted to set the record straight for the sake of his supporters who were publicly proclaiming his innocence and saying the FBI had framed him.
Kopp told the reporters that he selected Dr. Slepian's name from the phone book and that he also cased the homes of several other physicians before deciding that Slepian's was the most vulnerable due to a window in the back that faced the woods.
In lieu of a jury trial, Kopp agreed to a bench trial in front of a judge. Both the prosecution and the defense stipulated to a series of facts in the case and these agreed upon facts were presented to the judge on March 17, 2003. The following day the judge pronounced Kopp guilty of second-degree murder based on the facts presented at trial. Kopp was sentenced on May 9, 2003, to the maximum of 25 years to life in prison.
Kopp, serving as his own attorney, was convicted by a federal jury in January 2007 of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act by killing Dr. Slepian. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
James Kopp had been arrested on numerous (possibly hundreds of) occasions. His first recorded arrest was in San Francisco, CA, in April 1984. He subsequently had many other arrests in San Francisco and the Bay area for crimes related to clinic protests over the following four years. In November 1986 Kopp was also arrested in Pensacola, FL, while protesting fellow anti-abortion extremist Joan Andrews Bell's (see Associates section) sentencing for a clinic invasion. Kopp and Andrews Bell would later travel the world together protesting abortion.
In July 1988 in Atlanta, GA, Kopp was arrested with many other protesters at an Operation Rescue2 "siege"3 during the Democratic National Convention. The group spent several weeks in jail together and it is believed that many of them formed the Army of God.4 They gave themselves aliases and began writing the Army of God Manual. Among those jailed with Kopp were Lambs of Christ5 leader Norman Weslin, Shelly Shannon, who later shot Dr. George Tiller, and John Arena who was later arrested for committing butyric acid attacks against abortion clinics.
From 1988 through 1991, Kopp was arrested several times at clinic protests throughout the Northeast United States including Binghamton, NY; Pittsburgh, PA; Burlington, VT; Charleston, WV; and Levittown, NY. On several of those occasions he was arrested along with Lambs of Christ leader Norman Weslin and at least once he was arrested with Loretta Marra, who would later be arrested for assisting Kopp while he was on the run from law enforcement officials. After an arrest for trespassing and damaging property in San Jose, CA, in 1993, there seemed to be a lull in Kopp's protest activities. He was not arrested at a clinic again until an invasion in Englewood, NJ, in 1997.
It is thought that Kopp intentionally kept a low profile during the time period that he was allegedly committing the physician shootings in the United States and Canada.
James Kopp was born in August 1954. He is a graduate of the University of California Santa Cruz, 1976 and Cal State Fullerton, 1982. He was once a professional trumpeter in California.
In the 1980s he was the President of the Lourdes Foundation, which operated a crisis pregnancy center6 in San Francisco, CA. In addition, he spent time in the 1980s in L'Abri, a retreat founded by fundamentalist Francis Schaeffer in the Swiss Alps, and in the South American missions of the Wycliffe Bible Translators. A devout Roman Catholic, Kopp converted to Catholicism in the mid-1980s and led a life of poverty and celibacy.
In 1986 Kopp joined Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity in New York City and worked and lived there for about six months. He then went to Binghamton, New York in 1988 and became a volunteer for Randall Terry in the Operation Rescue office.
For years Kopp traveled with the Lambs of Christ and Operation Rescue and was well known within the extreme anti-abortion movement for developing and using locks that were difficult for the police to remove. He frequently chained himself to doors or tables with locks designed so that it would take hours for law enforcement officials to free him.
Kopp also traveled worldwide, often with Joan Andrews Bell, and protested in Europe, South America, and the Philippines in the early 1990s. He is also known to have traveled to India, Mexico, China, and Kenya. He again joined Andrews Bell and worked at Good Counsel Homes for unwed mothers in Hoboken, NJ, for several months in late 1997 or early 1998. The home is run by Joan Andrews Bell and her husband Chris Bell. He also worked for a Hoboken, NJ, restaurant delivery service from January to June 1998.
Kopp's last known residence before the Slepian shooting was in St. Albans, VT, where he worked in construction.
Kopp's stepmother Lynn Kopp told 60 Minutes II that Kopp had a girlfriend in college with whom he was in love "and then one day she said that she wanted to break up with him and he couldn't accept that. And then she told him that she had an abortion, and it was with...his child. And this, according to his father, is when he picked up his interests in the cause." However, in Kopp's confession to the Buffalo News, he said he and a girlfriend had gone to an abortion clinic, thinking she was pregnant, but she wasn't. He said the moment that changed his life was going to a morgue and seeing a fetus that had been aborted due to birth defects.
John Arena - Arena was jailed with Kopp during the Operation Rescue "siege" in Atlanta, GA, in 1988. He was arrested for committing butyric acid attacks against clinics and was honored at the 1999 White Rose Banquet, hosted by Michael Bray.
Joan Andrews Bell - Andrews Bell has advocated justifiable homicide and is a longtime friend of Kopp (since 1986 when he was arrested in Pensacola protesting her sentencing). Andrews Bell was Kopp's employer at Good Counsel Homes for unwed mothers in Hoboken, NJ run by Andrews Bell and her husband Chris. Andrews Bell and Kopp "rescued"8 together in Europe, South America and the Philippines.
Amy Lynn Boissonneault - Boissonneault was rumored to have been a potential love interest of Kopp's. She visited him while he was in prison in France. There was speculation that she was the reason Kopp was planning to return to the United States (she was seriously ill). She also worked for Good Counsel Homes in New Jersey and was from St. Albans, VT, where Kopp lived prior to Dr. Slepian's murder. Boissonneault passed away in February 2002.
Michael Bray - Bray is an outspoken advocate of justifiable homicide9 and has a criminal record for committing clinic and other arsons, one of which was the NAF office in Washington, DC. He is said to be the Chaplain of the Army of God. He organized a rally in support of Kopp on the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in January 2003 and visited Kopp in jail during that trip.
Doris Grady - Grady is a fellow anti-abortion protester from Pittsburgh, PA, who offered an alibi for Kopp during the time law enforcement authorities believed Kopp traveled to Tennessee to purchase the gun used in the Slepian murder.
Bill Koehler - Koehler is a signer of both justifiable homicide petitions. The petitions endorse the idea of justifiable homicide and were circulated after the murders of two abortion doctors in Pensacola, FL, in the mid-1990s. He said he was a member of Operation Rescue with Kopp and that he'd last seen him several weeks before the murder. Koehler also admitted that there are people who would help a fellow anti-abortion extremist in trouble. He said to the Buffalo News, "It's like the Underground Railroad. You know who's supportive, you know where the safe houses are, but you don't publicize it. Everything is on a need-to-know basis."
Loretta Marra and Dennis Malvasi - The couple was arrested for helping Kopp remain on the run from law enforcement by sending him money. Law enforcement officials have also said they believe the pair were helping Kopp with the logistics of returning to the United States, possibly to commit more crimes. Malvasi has previously served prison time for the fire bombings of clinics in New York City.
Shelly Shannon - Shannon was jailed with Kopp during the Operation Rescue "siege" in Atlanta, GA, in 1988. Shannon is currently in jail for arson and the attempted murder of an abortion provider, NAF member Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, KS.
Randall Terry - Kopp worked with Terry as a volunteer in the Binghamton, New York Operation Rescue office in 1988 when Terry was the leader of that organization. They traveled in the same vehicle together to Atlanta and were jailed together in Atlanta, GA, in 1988.
Norman Weslin - Weslin is the Founder of Lambs of Christ and has been arrested on numerous occasions. He was jailed with Kopp for several months in the early 90s in Vermont and in Atlanta in 1988. He also worked with Kopp in the Bronx.
Jeff White - White has been a member of Operation Rescue West and says he's known Kopp for ten years.
In January 2003, Michael Bray and other extremists called for Kopp's supporters to go to Buffalo to rally in support of James Kopp on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. About a dozen people attended, including Michael Bray, Neal Horsley, Bob Lokey, Jonathon O'Toole, Joshua Graff, Chuck Spingola, Donald Spitz, Linda Wolfe, Bill Koehler, and Adrian Horien. Those who attended the January rally support James Kopp and his violent acts. Most of them are vocal advocates of using violence against abortion providers and many have signed justifiable homicide or "defensive action" petitions.
Following is information on those attending the rally who are not listed in the section of Kopp's Close Associates:
Joshua Graff - Graff is a convicted clinic arsonist with close ties to Michael Bray and was honored at Bray's 1999 White Rose Banquet. He posted and signed a new justifiable homicide petition on his website.
Drew Heiss - Heiss has numerous arrests and convictions for clinic related activities including blockades in the Washington, DC, area and in Milwaukee, WI.
Adrian Horien - Horien publicly declared his belief in justifiable homicide in the media in 2003 and was handing out pro-Kopp literature to potential jurors in front of the courthouse during the jury selection process.
Bob Lokey - Lokey spent twenty years in San Quentin for first-degree murder (not related to the abortion issue). He was profiled in the HBO documentary, "Soldiers in the Army of God," 2001. He manages "Save the Babies" website where he advocates justifiable homicide.
Jonathon O'Toole - O'Toole claims to be a reporter for the Christian Gallery News Service, which is Neal Horsley's organization that takes pictures of people entering and exiting clinics and posts them on the internet. He lived with Neal Horsley and works on Horsley's websites - the Nuremberg Files and Abortion Cams. He was profiled in the HBO documentary, "Soldiers in the Army of God," 2001. O'Toole has made statements indicating his internal anguish over whether or not to take direct action against abortion.
Chuck Spingola - Spingola protests regularly and has numerous arrests relating to anti-gay activities, but is also a close associate of Matt Trewhella, justifiable homicide supporter and leader of the anti-abortion extremist group Missionaries to the Preborn. He attended Bray's White Rose Banquet in 2001 and was handing out pro-Kopp literature to potential jurors in front of the courthouse during the jury selection process.
Donald Spitz - Spitz was found guilty of blockading a clinic in Norfolk, VA, in 1990. He manages the Army of God website, which posted Clayton Waagner's threats to kill clinic staff. Spitz was a vocal supporter of John Salvi's shooting rampages that left two clinic workers dead and five injured at two Brookline, MA, clinics.
Linda Wolfe - Wolfe was involved in maintaining the "Prisoner's of Christ" network, which offers emotional and financial support to those in prison for committing acts of violence against abortion providers as well as for their families. Wolfe has corresponded with Neal Horsley and has an article published on his website.
- In New York first-degree murder is reserved for specific cases such as killing a police officer. Second-degree murder is a capitol crime in New York.
- Operation Rescue is an anti-abortion activist group that has engaged in illegal activities such as physically blockading clinics in order to prevent patients and staff from entering the facilities.
- "Siege" is the term used by anti-abortion extremists to describe a large group of people protesting at and physically blockading a clinic or clinics, usually over a period of several days.
- The Army of God is an underground group of anti-abortion extremists who believe that it is justifiable to use deadly force to stop abortion. The Army of God has claimed responsibility for arsons, bombings and murders.
- The Lambs of Christ is a group of anti-abortion extremists who travel widely across the country to physically block women from entering abortion clinics. They often use the tactic of locking themselves to clinics in intricate ways in order to make it difficult to remove them.
- Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) are designed to misinform and intimidate women to prevent them from having abortions. Women have described being harassed, bullied, and given blatantly false information. They have complained that their confidentiality has been violated, and that treatment by CPCs has endangered their health.
- Kopp's associates are listed because they are part of a network of extremists who assist those who need housing, money and other help when committing acts of violence. Many of them have also been directly involved in anti-abortion crimes.
- "Rescue" is the term used by anti-abortion extremists to describe protesting, sidewalk counseling and often illegal means such as blockading, to try to stop women from obtaining abortions.
- Justifiable homicide is the term used by anti-abortion extremists who believe it is justifiable to use deadly force to stop abortion.