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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Kopp Guilty of Murder

Aired March 18, 2003 - 14:21   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We're getting word there is a verdict in the murder trial of James Kopp. He is the man accused of killing abortion provider Barnett Slepian, 1998.
Our Jamie Colby in the New York bureau with some details for us -- Jamie.

JAMIE COLBY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, good afternoon. A New York state judge has found James Kopp guilty of murder. Kopp, an established anti-abortion activist for years, had admitted that he shot Dr. Barnett Slepian in 1998, but claimed he did not intend for him to die. Prosecutors argued Kopp's choice of a military assault rifle proved that claim was untrue. With a conviction on murder in the second degree, the Judge Michael D'Amico found that Kopp did intend to cause Slepian's death.

Slepian was a Buffalo-area gynecologist who also performed abortions. He was one of seven abortion providers gunned down in the U.S. between 1993 and 1998.

In a surprise twist last week in the case, Miles, Kopp waved his right to a jury trial, opting to have the judge alone determine his guilt or innocence. Kopp also decided not to contest the facts of the case, and as a result, in an unusual one-day proceeding yesterday, Kopp agreed to a 35-page summary of the evidence presented by prosecutors. They were spared the arduous task of calling some 60 witnesses, including Dr. Slepian's wife, Lynne, who would have been their first witness.

She was about ten feet away from her husband, home with their four sons, when a .30 caliber bullet pierced a kitchen window and then hit Slepian in the back.

Among the evidence: Kopp's rifle and a baseball cap buried in the woods behind Slepian's house. After the shooting, Kopp fled to Mexico and then to the United Kingdom. The FBI had placed him on its ten most wanted list back in 1999. He lived as a fugitive until French police, acting on a tip from the FBI, apprehended him at a post office in northwestern France two years ago this month. France extradited Kopp on the condition the U.S. wouldn't seek the death penalty. With the murder conviction, Kopp, who is 48, faces 25 years to life in prison. Sentencing, we are told, Miles, will be May 9. Again, James Charles Kopp has been found guilty of murder -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Jamie, doesn't he face some other charges, or is that rendered all moot by all of this? COLBY: No, he does. You are right, Miles. He still faces federal charges for using violent force (ph) against an abortion provider, and for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, and as well, in Canada, there is a warrant for his arrest in at least one of three non-fatal shootings of physicians who provided abortions. He remains a suspect in the other cases, and in an attempted shooting of a doctor in Rochester, New York -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Jamie Colby in New York. Thank you very much.

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