Murder Trial Begins for Abortion Doc's Killer

An anti-abortion extremist went on trial Monday for the 1998 slaying of a doctor who performed abortions, with defense attorneys acknowledging James Kopp shot the physician.

The case is being heard by a judge because Kopp waived his right to have the evidence considered by a jury. Kopp has pleaded innocent to murder charges, saying he only intended to wound Dr. Barnett Slepian.

Judge Michael D'Amico will rule based on a 35-page list of facts, followed by attorneys' arguments over what those facts mean legally.

Kopp entered the courtroom Monday in handcuffs, then nodded and smiled to the Rev. Michael Bray, leader of the Army of God anti-abortion group. Kopp did not look at Lynne Slepian, the doctor's widow.

The judge asked Kopp a series of questions, including whether he understood he had waived his right to testify and to have lesser charges considered. Kopp replied, "Yes, your honor" each time.

Lead defense attorney Bruce Barket said he wanted to make clear that Kopp is not waiving his right to challenge the list of facts at any future proceedings in other courts, including his upcoming trial in federal court.

Kopp faces a federal charge of interfering with the right to an abortion and is a suspect in four non-fatal shootings of abortion doctors in Canada and Rochester over the past decade. He is charged in one of the Canadian shootings.

Prosecutor Joseph Marusak entered 45 exhibits Monday, including aerial photos of the woods behind the Slepian house in suburban Amherst, where the doctor was shot through a window on Oct. 23.

Kopp fled the country shortly after the shooting, and was one of the FBI's most-wanted fugitives until his capture in France in 2001.

A wide cross-section of observers attended Monday's trial, including the director of the women's clinic where Slepian worked and members of the National Abortion Federation, an abortion-rights group.