Federal Trial Set to Begin for Pro-Life Extremist Convicted of Murdering Abortion Doctor

More than eight years after James Kopp shot and killed an abortion provider through the window of the doctor's home, the U.S. government will get its chance this week to prosecute the anti-abortion extremist already convicted of murder — with the goal of eliminating any chance of his release.

Kopp, 52, was on the run for more than two years after the murder, becoming one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted fugitives before being captured in France in 2001.

Kopp is serving a 25-year-to-life state sentence for second-degree murder in the 1998 sniper-style killing of Dr. Barnett Slepian.

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In a federal trial starting this week, the government will argue that by shooting an abortion provider, Kopp violated the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which banned the use of force or threats to ban access to reproductive health care. Kopp is also charged with using a firearm — a Russian assault rifle — during a violent crime.

Conviction could carry a sentence of life without parole. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Thursday, and opening statements are expected Tuesday.

Although Kopp will be in his 70s before becoming eligible for release on the existing conviction, U.S. Attorney Terrance Flynn said consideration for Slepian's family factored into the decision to move forward on the federal charges, so the family might never have to go through a parole hearing.

Kopp, meanwhile, has been preparing his own defense from jail.

Kopp has said he was only trying to wound Slepian to prevent him from performing abortions the following day. The bullet, he said, took a "crazy ricochet."

A judge has ruled Kopp will not even be allowed to talk about his religious or moral reasons for opposing abortion during the trial.

Abortion-related pins and clothing are banned from the courtroom during the trial, but Kopp supporters say they will be outside. Flynn said extra security is planned at the courthouse.

National Abortion Federation President Vicki Saporta said the aggressive prosecution would be a deterrent to those who share Kopp's extreme views.

"It's very important that we have laws like FACE and that they are, in fact, enforced," Saporta said.

Since Slepian's shooting, extreme violence against U.S. abortion clinics and providers has steadily waned, according to NAF. Last year, there were no successful violent attacks, Saporta said.

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