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Abortion Foe Accused of Killing Doctor Chooses to Be Tried by a Judge

March 12, 2003|From Reuters

BUFFALO, N.Y. — James Kopp, an antiabortion militant whose 1998 killing of a New York doctor led to a global manhunt, Tuesday waived his right to be tried by a jury and will instead be tried by a judge.

Kopp and his lawyers announced the decision at a hearing in Erie County Court in Buffalo, N.Y., and it was approved by Judge Michael D'Amico.

The murder trial will start Monday. The switch means that Kopp's trial will proceed by what prosecutor Frank Clark described as "stipulated facts rather than by the routine way of calling witnesses and introducing evidence" and could last as little as a day instead of weeks.

Kopp fled the U.S. after the Oct. 23, 1998, shooting of Buffalo-area doctor Barnett Slepian as he stood in his kitchen with his wife and four sons nearby. Kopp was caught in France in March 2001 and extradited last year.

The process of choosing a jury started March 3, with potential jurors being asked to fill out a questionnaire, including their views on abortion and whether they believed it was a right under the law or murder.

Kopp admitted in a published interview in November with the Buffalo News to shooting Slepian. Kopp insisted he intended to wound Slepian, not kill him.

Clark said Kopp's statements would be allowed at trial.

Slepian, 52, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Amherst, a suburb of Buffalo near the Canadian border, performed abortions, delivered babies and provided numerous other medical services for women.

Kopp, who was affiliated with the Army of God antiabortion group, is charged with second-degree murder and with depraved indifference for human life. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.

He pleaded not guilty in court to the charges on Dec. 17. He will also stand trial in a federal court.

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