Suspect in 1998 slaying of abortion doctor arrested in France
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – The man wanted in the 1998 slaying of a Buffalo abortion doctor who was cut down by a sniper’s bullet in his kitchen was captured in France on Thursday.
James Kopp, a 46-year-old known as the ”Atomic Dog” in anti-abortion circles, became one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives after the slaying of Dr. Barnett Slepian. Kopp is also wanted by Canadian authorities for allegedly wounding an abortion doctor there in 1995.
FBI agent Joel Mercer said Kopp was arrested outside a post office in the northwestern French community of Dinan, where he had gone to pick up a package from New York containing $300. He had arrived from Ireland less than three weeks earlier.
Two people described as anti-abortion activists were also arrested Thursday for allegedly plotting to hide Kopp in New York City. One of them was previously convicted of bombing a New York abortion clinic.
”I felt greatly relieved because I think this area cries for justice. And, quite frankly, I let out a little ‘Whoopee!’ too,” said Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark.
One of the federal charges Kopp faces carries a potential death penalty. He also faces state charges, including murder. U.S. Attorney Denise O’Donnell said no decision has been made on whether Kopp will be tried first in state or federal court.
Slepian, 52, an obstetrician who also provided abortions, had just returned from synagogue and was heating soup in his suburban Amherst home in October 1998 when he was killed by a rifle shot that came through a window.
Kopp, who is from St. Albans, Vt., became the subject of an international manhunt a month later.
He had used at least 28 aliases and been arrested in more than two dozen places in the United States and Italy for protesting abortion. He was last seen Nov. 3, 1998, the day before authorities issued a warrant in the Slepian shooting in hopes of questioning him.
A month later, Kopp’s car was found abandoned at the Newark, N.J., airport. Authorities have said it was seen in Slepian’s neighborhood in the weeks before the shooting.
Law enforcement sources have also said that Kopp has been linked, through DNA testing, to a strand of hair found near where the sniper fired. A scope-equipped rifle found buried near the Slepian home provided what authorities called a major breakthrough.
Kopp had been in Ireland for about a year, living in hostels and doing clerical work, FBI agents in Buffalo said. He left the country March 12 as Irish police were closing in.
”It was getting a little warm in Ireland,” said Hardrich Crawford Jr., the FBI’s agent in charge.
Kopp was arrested in Dinan, a town in the Brittany region in northwestern France. Police followed him for several days before apprehending him.
In Washington, FBI Director Louis Freeh said Kopp had tried to elude capture by using public telephones and anonymous e-mail messages.
”Going back several weeks we had some very strong leads,” Freeh said, when asked how long the FBI knew Kopp was in France. ”Our investigation determined that he was about to leave France. Had he left, it would have further complicated” the investigation.
Freeh said Kopp’s extradition from France would be a long process.
”We have extradited many people back from France including people who were originally charged in capital cases,” he said.
Marilynn Buckham, director of Buffalo GYN Womenservices, the clinic where Slepian practiced, said the arrest will provide some relief for the staff and Slepian’s family, calling him ”our doctor and our friend and our colleague.”
Canadian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Kopp last year in the attempted murder of Dr. Hugh Short, an abortion doctor shot at his home in Ancaster, Ontario, in 1995.
Police also want to talk to Kopp about the shootings of a doctor in Vancouver in 1994 and another doctor in Winnipeg in 1997.
The two people arrested in New York were identified as Loretta Marra, 37, and Dennis Malvasi, 51. Malvasi pleaded guilty in 1987 to dynamiting a clinic and planting a bomb that was defused before it exploded at another.
Marra and Malvasi were ordered held without bail on charges of conspiring to harbor a felon. A federal complaint alleges they rented an apartment under an alias ”as a safe house” for Kopp.
FBI agents intercepted a series of cryptic messages the suspects left for Kopp in an e-mail account, the complaint said. Kopp left his own messages asking them to send him enough money to sneak back into the United States through Montreal.
”The sooner I get about 1000, the sooner you see this smiling cherubic face,” Kopp wrote, according to court papers.
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