NY court upholds sentence of abortion doc’s killer

NEW YORK (AP) âÄî The life prison sentence given to a militant abortion opponent was appropriate despite his claims that he only meant to injure rather than kill a doctor, a federal appeals court said Monday. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan found no merit to challenges raised by James Kopp, including an argument that his sniper-style slaying in 1998 of Dr. Barnett Slepian in the kitchen of his suburban Buffalo home was not intentional. A three-judge panel said it was irrelevant whether Kopp intended to kill Slepian. Kopp, 53, was sentenced in June 2007 to life in prison plus 10 years. He was convicted in January 2007 of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act by killing an abortion provider and of using a scope-equipped military assault rifle in a violent crime. The appeals court said Kopp was convicted under a law that only requires that he acted with intent to injure Slepian because he had provided reproductive health services. The statute allows for a life prison sentence if death results. The law does not require that Kopp intended to kill the doctor, only that Kopp acted with malice and demonstrated a heightened disregard for human life when he shot him, the 2nd Circuit said. “The truth is not that I regret shooting Dr. Slepian, I regret that he died,” Kopp told reporters after the shooting. “I aimed at his shoulder, the bullet took a crazy ricochet, and that’s what killed him.” Kopp claimed on appeal that a trial judge erred by barring him from asserting that he was saving children’s lives by preventing abortions. The appeals court said the argument had no merit. Kopp’s lawyer, Bruce Bryan, declined to comment on the decision. Kopp was suspected in the nonfatal shootings of four other doctors âÄî three in Canada and one in Rochester between 1994 and 1997. He is charged with attempted murder in one of those cases âÄî the 1995 wounding of Dr. Hugh Short in Ancaster, Ontario. Although Canadian authorities have expressed interest in prosecuting Kopp, U.S. authorities have said he would have to finish his U.S. sentences first. Before his federal sentencing, Kopp had already begun serving a sentence of 25 years-to-life on a state murder conviction in the case. After shooting Slepian, Kopp fled for 2 1/2 years to Mexico, Ireland and finally France, where he was arrested in March 2001 after appearing on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted fugitives list. Authorities said the Slepian killing came after Kopp had been arrested more than 100 times as his anti-abortion activism escalated from blocking doorways at abortion providers and clinics to acid attacks and finally shootings.