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An anti-abortion group that disapproves of killing abortionists has written a report detailing its theory that accused abortionist-killer James Kopp is being framed by the FBI.
Denton, Texas-based Life Dynamics developed the report using affidavits and interviews from witnesses, including Kopp, and extradition documents from both the FBI and the Amherst (New York) Police Department.
Life Dynamics is a unique abortion-issue activist group in that its primary mission is to provide litigation support services for attorneys representing women who have been killed, injured or sexually assaulted while having abortions. Since its founding in 1992, the group has assisted in more than 200 cases. Though it provides no formal legal representation, Life Dynamics also conducts direct-mail campaigns “to educate members of the medical community about the realities of becoming involved in abortion.”
Ed Zielinski, an attorney with Life Dynamics, went to France to interview Kopp personally and also conducted other interviews and research that comprise the basis of the report. Zielinski is a former criminal defense attorney who was an assistant district attorney in Cook County, Texas, when he was hired by the group.
“Our report does not seek to prove whether Jim Kopp committed this crime or not – that was not our purpose,” said Life Dynamics President Mark Crutcher, author of the report who noted he had never heard of Kopp before the murder. Rather, the group focused on “investigating the investigator,” he said.
James Kopp, a 46-year-old with a master’s degree in biology, is accused of shooting 52-year-old Dr. Barnet Slepian on Oct. 23, 1998, while the doctor was talking with his wife and sons in his Amherst home near Buffalo, N.Y. The bullet struck Slepian through the chest, making him the third U.S. gynecologist to be murdered in 5 years. He was the only doctor still performing abortions in a city of 300,000 people, and his clinic had regularly been the focus of anti-abortion protests.
Upon hearing he was suspected of the crime, Kopp fled to France, where he was apprehended on March 27. Held in custody in Rennes, French authorities resisted signing an extradition agreement because Kopp and his attorney said he could face the death penalty in the United States – an illegal punishment in France, where the death penalty is considered immoral.
A week before the first hearing on June 7, the U.S. embassy in France sent the French government a diplomatic note promising Kopp would not face the death penalty. Following protests from Kopp’s French defense lawyer that the note was not a sufficient guarantee, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft confirmed that he had, with regret, agreed to rule out the death penalty in the case. Accordingly, France agreed Thursday to extradite Kopp.
Kopp’s lawyer, Herve Rouzaud-Le Boeuf, said a decision on whether to appeal would be made this week, raising the possibility that the suspect could remain in France for several more months. If an appeal is filed, French authorities will have to delay signing an extradition order until the appeal proceeds through the French judicial system.
Kopp was arrested more than 20 times between 1984 and 1997 for his demonstrations, sidewalk counseling and “rescue” missions outside abortion clinics. Kopp’s nickname – “Atomic Dog” – is mentioned in the book dedication of “The Army of God manual” – an underground publication clandestinely circulated among pro-violence participants in the anti-abortion movement, according to the FBI.
“The manual provides information and advice to individuals engaged in illegal activities at reproductive health clinics and toward providers of reproductive health services,” wrote FBI Special Agent Joel G. Mercer in his extradition affidavit. “Among other thing, the manual recommends strategies for performing and disguising illegal actions, including gluing abortion clinic locks, obstructing clinic entrances with kryptonite locks, and destroying clinic premises with cement, acid, or fire, and engaging in force or threats of force against providers or recipients of reproductive health services.”
The manual purports to be a collection of materials assembled by the author and editor, “Mad Gluer.” It includes a special thanks and dedication section in which appreciation is given to, among others, “Atomic Dog (you nuclear canine),” according to the FBI document.
In addition to eyewitness identifications of Kopp as a man seen near Slepian’s home on different occasions, including the day of the shooting, the FBI obtained DNA evidence linking Kopp to the scene of the crime. Several personal items were found buried near the shooting site. Mitochondrial DNA found on samples of fibers from Kopp’s U.S. home corresponded to those found on the personal items.
But Crutcher says the items’ presence at the crime scene are suspicious. The items were not found until a second search of the scene on Nov. 5 – nearly two weeks after the shooting.
“Why would Kopp take off his watch, ear muffs, fanny pack and cap, then throw them in a hole on top of a trowel along with his flashlight and binoculars?” asks Crutcher in his report. “Even more bizarre, why would he take the time to put all these things in a plastic bag? Was he trying to preserve them for the forensics team?
“Interestingly, none of these items are illegal to possess, nor would they implicate him in the crime if he were later caught with them. The only way these items could cause Kopp to be linked to the crime is if they are found at the scene of the crime,” the report continues.
Crutcher contends the FBI’s shoulder-to-shoulder search of the crime scene in October 1998 should have turned up the items. Life Dynamics asserts the items were placed on the scene by the FBI after agents obtained some of Kopp’s personal items from the suspect’s friend, E. James Gannon. Kopp, who has no permanent address, had been storing boxes with Gannon. Those boxes were eventually confiscated by the FBI, although the exact date of the confiscation is unclear.
According to the Amherst Police Department’s extradition affidavit, an FBI agent told the grand jury on the case that Gannon was interviewed and the boxes confiscated on Nov. 7 – two days after Kopp’s personal items were found buried at the crime scene. If those dates are correct, the FBI could not have used the Gannon items as planted evidence.
The FBI’s affidavit, however, indicates the meeting with Gannon took place “on or about” Oct. 24 – theoretically giving the FBI enough time to have carried out Crutcher’s scenario. Crutcher said it is inconceivable that the FBI would not know and report the exact date of the meeting. Additionally, the boxes were sent to the Buffalo office of the FBI. All other evidence had been sent to the Washington forensics lab, including a gun found buried at the crime scene in April 1999.
When FBI agents went back for a third search more than 6 months after the shooting, a gun was found that uses the same caliber bullet as the one that killed Slepian. The gun, notes Life Dynamics’ report, was found wrapped in a similar manner to items the FBI ships for forensic examination. Since metal detectors were used in previous searches, it is highly unusual the gun was not found earlier, wrote Crutcher.
In all, Crutcher said the evidence in the case against Kopp doesn’t add up.
“There’s a lot of discrepancies in the evidence against him, a lot of inconsistencies and a lot of bizarre things,” he said. “There were serious improprieties and possibly even criminal acts by the FBI and/or the Amherst Police Department,” Crutcher continued. “We believe we made a powerful case that Mr. Kopp was selected for this persecution, that the FBI planted evidence, that there may have been perjury committed by law enforcement – including the FBI – in grand jury testimony.”
Supervisory Special Agent Paul Moscal in the FBI’s Buffalo office said he is prohibited by law from commenting on the specifics of any ongoing investigation, including the Slepian murder. Moscal did note, however, that if anyone has evidence of wrongdoing by the FBI in a criminal investigation, that person has a legal obligation to present such evidence to the Department of Justice.
The Amherst Police Department did not return a call for comment.