A militant abortion opponent already serving 25 years to life for murdering a doctor who performed abortions was sentenced Tuesday to another life term in prison on federal charges.
James Kopp's sentencing closed a case that began nearly nine years ago with the sniper-style slaying of Dr. Barnett Slepian in the kitchen of his suburban Amherst home.
Kopp, 52, was convicted in 2003 on a state charge of second-degree murder for Slepian's death and sentenced to prison. In January, a federal jury convicted him on related charges that he violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act by killing an abortion provider. A jury also found him guilty of using a firearm in a violent crime — a scope-equipped military assault rifle.
Kopp spoke for a full hour before sentencing, rambling about legal cases and his personal beliefs about abortion that that included graphic descriptions of the procedure. He insisted he never meant to kill Slepian, only to wound him, but that the bullets took an unexpected path.
"Tragic, horrible ricochet. That's how he died," said Kopp.
Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and holding what appeared to be a yellow, plastic rosary, he showed no emotion as he was sentenced to life, plus 10 years for the weapons charge. He also was ordered to pay $2.6 million in restitution to the Slepians.
Even though federal prosecutors sought two life sentences, U.S. District Judge Richard Arcara said he did not want to impose an unrealistic sentence that might be appealed. "It's clear to me you've justified in your own mind the murder of Dr. Slepian," he told Kopp.
Slepian's widow read from a statement that she said was on behalf of her and her four sons, all of whom were sitting in the courtroom's front row.
"I want Mr. Kopp to go to jail knowing he killed a wonderful man, a kind and compassionate brother, father, husband and friend," said Lynne Slepian, who did not look at Kopp as she addressed the court from a podium. "This was the man that I was supposed to grow old with."
Arrested 100 times for protesting
The Slepians' four sons were ages 7 to 15 when their father was shot through a window of their home on Oct. 23, 1998.
Kopp, nicknamed "Atomic Dog," had been arrested more than 100 times protesting abortion. He is suspected in the non-fatal shootings of four other doctors, three in Canada and one in Rochester, and is charged with attempted murder in the 1995 shooting of Dr. Hugh Short in Ancaster, Ontario.
Canadian authorities had expressed interest in prosecuting Kopp, but he must finish his U.S. sentences first.
"I know they're extremely pleased that he will be getting life without parole," U.S. Attorney Terrance Flynn said after speaking with Ontario police officials.
The judge received letters from at least eight Kopp supporters seeking leniency for Kopp.
"We should all be very, very afraid that this sick mentality of James Kopp and his followers still exists and is tolerated by so many," Lynne Slepian said. "There are too many people who believe that what James Kopp did was not a crime, but a calling."
In his own letter to the judge, Kopp wrote that several children are alive today because of Slepian's death.
After shooting Slepian, Kopp fled to Mexico, Ireland and finally France, where he was captured in March 2001. He was added to the FBI's list of the Ten Most Wanted fugitives in June 1999.