Anti-Abortion Extremist Apologizes to Widow of Doctor He Killed

An anti-abortion extremist defending himself against charges of killing a doctor decided not to cross-examine the man's widow.

Instead, he gave her an apology.

"Mrs. Slepian, I just wanted to say I'm sorry. I respect you and your family," James Kopp, 52, said quietly to Lynne Slepian, wife of Dr. Barnett Slepian, after her testimony Tuesday at the start of Kopp's federal trial.

Kopp, who is already serving 25 years to life on a state conviction of second-degree murder, is charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances act by killing Slepian, who provided abortions.

If convicted of the federal crime, Kopp could face up to life in prison without parole.

Lynne Slepian began the government's case with her description of the shooting just after she and her 52-year-old husband returned home on Oct. 23, 1998, from a memorial service for Barnett Slepian's father at about 10 p.m.

"He was starving, so he went right to the refrigerator," she said. While soup was heating in the microwave, Slepian began emptying his pockets at a desk as she spoke in the kitchen with two of their four sons, ages 7 to 15 at the time.

"I heard a popping noise," she said. "He looked at me and thought he'd been shot. I rushed over to him. He fell against me and then fell to the floor. I yelled to my oldest son. One of us called 911 and we grabbed some dish towels and we tried to stop the bleeding."

Kopp used his opening statement to tell jurors that Slepian's death was "a full-bore, 100 percent tragedy" but was not murder because it was not malicious or premeditated.

He has acknowledged planning the shooting for a year and then firing a high-powered military rifle with telescopic sights from the woods behind the Slepian home, but he has said he meant only to wound the doctor to prevent him from performing abortions.

"Shoot them in the head, blow up a car, riddle their body with bullets like they do in the movies. That's how you kill someone" with premeditation, Kopp said.

He urged jurors to look for evidence of premeditation or malice toward Slepian. "If you don't see it, that's me proving my case," he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Mehltretter outlined a case that will rely in part on Kopp's own admissions.

Kopp is also charged with using a weapon in a violent crime. The trial is expected to last about three weeks.

He is also suspected in the nonfatal shootings of four doctors in Rochester, N.Y., and Canada.