BUFFALO, N.Y. – An anti-abortion extremist was convicted of second-degree murder Tuesday in the 1998 sniper slaying of an abortion doctor after an unusual trial in which no jury was used and both sides agreed the defendant fired the fatal shot.
James Kopp, 48, had waived a jury trial in favor of much shorter proceedings in which the judge issued a verdict based on a list of facts agreed to by the prosecution and defense.
After the verdict was read, Kopp, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, smiled at his attorney.
"Jim and I were disappointed by the verdict but not shocked by it," said his lawyer, Bruce Barket. An appeal was planned.
Kopp was found guilty of intentionally killing Dr. Barnett Slepian, 52, who was struck by a single bullet fired from a high-powered rifle through a window of his suburban Amherst home. Kopp had claimed he had intended only to wound Slepian to prevent him from performing abortions.
Shortly after the shooting, Kopp fled to Mexico and then Ireland and was one of the FBI's most-wanted fugitives until his capture in France in 2001.
Slepian's widow, Lynne, watched from the front row as Judge Michael D'Amico issued the verdict, a day after he heard the case in a single court session.
At sentencing, set for May 9, Kopp faces a minimum of 15 years to life and a maximum of 25 years to life. Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark said his office would seek "not a day less" than the maximum.
Abortion-rights supporters applauded the guilty verdict.
Marilynn Buckham, executive director of GYN Womenservices, the Buffalo clinic where Slepian practiced, said the verdict showed Kopp "to be the cold calculating premeditated murderer that he is."
Betsy McDonald, one of a few Kopp supporters at the trial, said justice was not served.
"I can't say I'm surprised but certainly I'm disappointed that Jim did not get justice," McDonald said, "because what he did was justifiable. It was an emergency measure to prevent the killing of innocent human beings."
Barket said Kopp probably will address the Slepian family at his sentencing hearing. The district attorney said it was unknown whether family members would break their silence and respond.
Kopp still faces a federal trial on a charge of interfering with the right to an abortion related to the Slepian shooting. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Mehltretter said the trial on that charge -- which carries a maximum life sentence -- probably will take place this year.
Kopp also is a suspect in the nonfatal shootings of four abortion providers in Canada and Rochester between 1994 and 1997. He is charged in one of the Canadian shootings.