James Kopp, the anti-abortion extremist who confessed to the sniper-style killing of abortion provider Barnett Slepian, MD, waived his right to a jury trial yesterday, against the advice of the judge and two of his three lawyers, according to the Buffalo News. Now, instead of a trial that would include 60 witnesses and last for a month, the trial is expected to begin and end on Monday. Judge Michael D’Amico of Erie County Court will decide Kopp’s guilt or innocence based on a single document of facts in the case, approved by both the prosecution and by Kopp’s lawyer, Bruce Barket, the New York Times reports. Barket told the News that Kopp still intends to plead not guilty because Kopp does not believe he did anything criminal. The agreement reached between the defense and prosecution includes a stipulation that the judge cannot consider lesser charges, such as manslaughter; Kopp will either be found guilty or not guilty of murder in the second degree, according to the Associated Press.
Kopp had intended the trial to be a “forum on abortion,” with Barket planning to argue that Kopp had committed “justifiable homicide,” according to Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report. However, the News reports that Kopp was worried that the “pro-life message” would be overshadowed by the gruesome details of the events leading up to the murder and the murder itself. Glenn Murray, an attorney very close to the Slepian family and Dr. Slepian’s former clinic, told the News that giving up a traditional murder defense “serves [Kopp’s] agenda. This way, he totally avoids any testimony about Kopp the murderer, and can move toward sentencing and portray himself as Kopp the martyr. He’ll never be cross-examined about his deliberate stalking and hideous murder. This is better for Kopp than a jury trial or guilty plea.”
District Attorney Frank Clark, who was prosecuting the case, told the News that Dr. Slepian’s widow, Lynne, had a “mixed reaction” to the news. “On the one hand, she was obviously relieved she wasn’t going to have to put herself and her family through the pain of living that night. On the other hand, I think she was honestly disappointed that she wasn’t able to take the stand and confront the defendant about what he did to her and her family,” he said.
Kopp is facing charges of second-degree murder and “depraved indifference to human life,” each of which carry maximum sentences of 25 years to life. Kopp has also been charged in federal court for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). Two of Kopp’s alleged accomplices while he was on the run from authorities, Loretta Marra and Bruce Malvasi, are planning to plead guilty in a Brooklyn federal court.
Kopp killed Dr. Slepian in 1998 in Slepian’s Amherst, New York, home. DNA evidence has been found to link Kopp to the attempted murder of Canadian doctor Dr. Hugh Short, who was shot in his home in 1995. Kopp also is the prime suspect in the sniper-style shootings of three other abortion providers – the 1994 shooting of Dr. Garson Romalis in his Vancouver home; the October 1997 shooting of a Perinton, NY doctor, whose name has been withheld by police; and the November 1997 shooting of Dr. Jack Fainman in his Winnipeg, NY home.