Editor’s note: Did James Kopp really kill abortion doctor Barnett Slepian? That’s the question author and producer Jack Cashill probes in his comprehensive, seven-part exclusive series for WND. Cashill puts a microscope to the actions of federal and local law enforcement agencies and analyzes how political considerations of the Clinton administration affected the murder investigation. He also examines the evidence in the case and raises insightful questions about how and when it was gathered.
In this final report, Cashill takes on the question of why Kopp, if he were innocent, fled the United States when he heard he was a murder suspect. Cashill also lists the several outstanding and disturbing questions about the feds’ case against the pro-life activist.
However dubious the evidence against him, James Kopp still has a lot of explaining to do. Before he convinces a jury of his innocence, he must tell them where exactly he was between Oct. 15 and Nov. 1, 1998. No one other than his attorney is likely to hear this explanation until the trial.
The second question, and one that has disconcerted many of his friends and supporters, is why, if he were truly innocent, did he flee the country. His flight took him first to Mexico and then to Ireland, where he worked in a Dublin cancer hospital, and finally to France. The French police apprehended him in the town of Dinan at the end of March 2001 only a few weeks after he arrived.
This question Kopp himself addresses head-on in a letter to select friends. “This is what everyone wants to know,” Kopp wrote from a French prison in June 2001. “The answer is a person, not a thing or an idea. The person is Maurice Lewis, R.I.P., who was poisoned in Canada in 1996, roughly.”
Kopp knew Lewis well. They had spent six brutal weeks together in an Italian strip cell after a rescue operation in Rome. When Lewis was found dead in his tractor-trailer on Sept. 5, 1997, the same day Mother Teresa died, Kopp took it hard.
Although he was celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic as a “hero to the pro-life movement,” Canadian authorities had little use for Lewis, a truck driver by profession. In fact, they had branded him “Government Enemy No. 1” for his persistent defiance of Canadian protest restrictions. Although the Ontario Police cited “asphyxia” as the cause of death and assured the public that “no foul play was involved,” that assurance rang hollow for many in the pro-life movement, including Kopp.
When Kopp first heard the news that he was wanted as a “witness,” he wondered, “If that’s how they treated Maurice, what about me?” Kopp also reflected back on his own experience in San Francisco in 1985, when he was tried and acquitted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon. “I was not interested in repeating that experience,” he wrote. Finally, he worried about outstanding warrants against him in Pittsburgh, where he recently and unsuccessfully sued a prison warden.
“Even so,” Kopp continues, “when I heard I was wanted for questioning, I tried to turn myself in for questioning through a Vermont lawyer, Dan Lynch.” When he called an intermediary, Kopp learned that Lynch had become a judge, which gave him pause. “So, the run theory prevailed.”
Kopp understood that his thinking might not make sense to those outside the movement or those who have not found themselves the object of a federal lawsuit. And so he assured his friends, “No, I am not a conspiracy theorist … yet.”
Kopp’s friend Susan Brindle empathized fully. When she first heard his name linked to the Barnett Slepian killing, though having no doubt of his innocence, she prayed, “Please, dear God, just let him run.” She believes that Kopp had no more chance finding justice from the Clinton administration than a black man would in pre-civil rights South. “I would run myself,” she says. Still, as Kopp acknowledges, “If I had to do it all over again, I probably would not have run away.”
In fact, the authorities were able to seize Kopp only because he was making efforts to return. His stated motive for coming back was to marry a Vermont woman with whom he had been shyly in love for the last 10 years. He had not declared his affection for her earlier because his mission made marriage nearly impossible. After his arrest, however, everything became urgent. This urgency intensified when she and Kopp learned that her cancer was terminal. She would visit him in France three times, always in a prison cell, before dying.
“Jim was a romantic,” confirms Doris Grady, “almost like a teen-ager.”
A Brooklyn husband and wife, Dennis Malvasi and Loretta Marra, had been helping Kopp get the money together for his return. Marra had known Kopp since at least February 1990, when they were arrested at an anti-abortion protest in Vermont and jailed for two months. A law enforcement official told the New York Times, ”We were looking for Loretta Marra shortly after the event in Buffalo.” The complaint against Marra notes that she was last seen with Kopp in 1997, which suggests FBI surveillance after the Task Force on Violence Against Abortion Providers had expired but before the shooting.
Marra, in fact, had partnered with Kopp in perhaps his most legendary rescue. On this occasion, the abortion clinic was located inside a building next to an office for the developmentally disabled. Marra pushed a drooling Kopp in a wheelchair right past security. Attached to the wheelchair was a balloon proclaiming “Have A Nice Day.” On the bottom of the wheelchair was a concealed cinderblock.
When the pair reached the clinic entrance Kopp yoked both himself and Marra to the block using his own personally refined locks. To remove the two of them, the police had to place them on a cart and take them to a nearby emergency room where they finally cut the lock open with an abrasive saw. Rescues no more extreme than this led the authorities to fix Marra and Kopp among what The New York Times called “the country’s loose-knit group of violent anti-abortion activists.”
After the Slepian shooting, investigators could not find Marra, at least according to an FBI complaint. Finally, in October 1999, FBI agents spotted her with Malvasi in front of their Brooklyn apartment building, and they intensified the surveillance. Malvasi, who had been convicted in 1987 of bombing an abortion clinic in Manhattan, had never met Kopp.
According to Marra’s attorney, and as reported in The Buffalo News, the FBI paid a friend of Marra’s to rifle through the personal property in her home. The FBI then used the information from the friend to petition a federal judge for a court order to bug the home, including the bedroom, where they could eavesdrop on conversations between Marra and her husband. This process “outraged” Marra’s attorney, who claimed that the FBI misled the court in asking for more than a tap on the couple’s phone.
When the story of Kopp’s arrest broke, the FBI told the Times that “they had installed eavesdropping devices on the couple’s phone and overheard a conversation between them on March 5 in which they discussed ‘Jim’s money’ and the need to ‘get it.'” This sentence is deceptive. It implies that the “overhearing” took place on the phone when it probably took place within the apartment. The couple was cautious enough to use code even on its e-mails. Regardless of how they got the information, the agents used it to have Kopp arrested when he attempted to retrieve the money package at the Dinan Post Office.
On March 29, 2001, within a day of Kopp’s capture in France, the FBI arrested Malvasi and Marra on the unusual charge of conspiring to bring Kopp back into the country. The New York Times’ reporting on the subject suggests why Kopp and other pro-lifers worry about their treatment at the hands of the media and its inevitable affect on their treatment in the courts.
To a person, the Times reporters use gratuitously harsh language in their analysis of Marra and Malvasi and the pro-life movement in general, describing the couple as part of “the radical anti-abortion movement” and Malvasi as “one of the most violent abortion foes in the history of New York City.” For the record, Malvasi never hurt anyone in the bombings or intended to and turned himself in at the urging of Cardinal O’Connor. He served five years in prison for his crime. Tellingly, the Times fails to mention anywhere that Marra and Malvasi had two young children, ages 5 and 2, who were removed at the time of their arrest and were eventually placed with relatives.
The major media’s animus would be more understandable were it applied to all protesters and terrorists and those who harbor them, but it is not. When Refuse and Resist – the radical leftist organization that produced two early suspects in the Slepian shooting – made the news for its own protest activity, the Times all but celebrated the event. The occasion was the World Economic Forum in New York in February 2002. During the protest, 38 people were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, unlawful assembly and reckless endangerment. Three police officers were injured. Here is how The New York Times described the event in its lead paragraph:
“It turned out to be a beautiful day for protest yesterday, with a little something for everybody. Peaceful demonstrations, catchy slogans, colorful placards, plenty of police officers – and even a few arrests.”
Even more telling is the treatment by the major media of “soccer mom” Sara Jane Olson, aka Kathleen Soliah. Soliah had been accused of conspiring to kill police officers in California when she was an associate of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Olson, commented the Times sympathetically on May 20, 2001, “leads a very public life as a fund-raiser for progressive causes, a volunteer who records books for the blind, an active Methodist, a competitive runner and an accomplished actress in the local theater.”
Jack Scott, among other notables, considered the prosecution of Olson “a waste of time.” Scott, the celebrated “writer and sports guru,” knew Olson from her days with the SLA. Scott’s claim to fame was that he hid the remnants of this undeniably murderous band for months on end. Still, writes the Los Angeles Times approvingly in a glowing eulogy to Scott at the time of his February 2000 death, “Jack Scott was never charged with any crime for helping to hide Hearst and the Harrises.”
Marra and Malvasi had no such luck. The couple “conspired to harbor the fugitive,” their arrest warrant notes, “by planning to house Kopp in their apartment, by planning to obtain medicine for him, by sending money to Kopp under false names and by holding identification papers sent by cop (sic).” Although they had not gotten beyond the planning stages, the couple were indicted less than a week after their arrest and shipped off to Buffalo to stand trial.
From the beginning, the government opposed bail under any conditions for either Marra or Malvasi. At an April 2001 bail hearing, the judge agreed to reconsider if the defense could bolster the amount of security and collateral being offered. When family and friends doubled the amount of cash and property they originally had offered, now more than $600,000, government attorneys again opposed release, claiming “risk of flight.” The prosecutors admitted that Marra posed no threat of violence, and besides, she had two small children and was willing to be electronically monitored. Still, the judge denied her bail once again. As of this writing, more than a year after their arrest, Marra and Malvasi remain imprisoned awaiting trial.
Kopp, meanwhile, is still in France awaiting extradition. The U.S. government seems in no great hurry to get him back. Its attorneys took 39 out of the allotted 40 days to file extradition papers. Managing the case for the FBI is one Joel Mercer, an agent who had joined the Bureau only one year before Slepian was shot. Typically, the FBI would assign a case with this high a profile to a veteran as something of a reward. The Bureau, however, envisions no glory in the days to come. Its agents have too many hard questions to answer, among them:
- Why, only a few days before Slepian’s shooting and without any known evidence, did they first tell the Perinton, N.Y., doctor that anti-abortionists had shot at him?
- Was it mere coincidence that the warning to Slepian was issued on the day he was shot?
- Why did they exclude from their affidavit any testimony from the 14-year-old witness who had seen a man running to the passenger side of a car?
- Why did they come looking for Kopp at Jim Gannon’s house the day after the shooting when no evidence yet pointed to Kopp?
- Why did they send the materials seized from Gannon’s house to the Buffalo field office and not to the FBI lab in Washington?
- How could the FBI’s most critical eyewitness identify Kopp and ID his car when uncontested grand jury testimony put Kopp at a job site eight hours away that very morning?
- Why did it take them two weeks to find a concealed bag of Kopp’s personal effects allegedly buried at the crime scene? How did they find it? Why would anyone bury his wristwatch or his fanny pack when police were already on the way?
- Why did they contradict themselves and tell the grand jury that they had retrieved Kopp’s personal effects from Gannon’s house on Nov. 7, 1998, two days after the bag had been found at the crime scene, not on “Oct. 24 or 25”?
- Why did they suddenly drop the investigation into the two suspicious leftists who had visited the crime scene?
- How do they explain that Kopp’s car, when found, had different license plates than the ones recorded at the crime scene? Where did those plates come from?
- How could it possibly have taken them six months to find a rifle buried at the crime scene given the ease of finding a rifle with a metal detector? Why would anyone bury a rifle after a shooting, especially in its original shipping pack? Why did the agents go back to look?
- Why did they assume that the man who bought the gun, B. James Milton, was James Kopp when there was absolutely no evidence of the same? How can Kopp have bought the rifle on the specified day when he was a confirmed 550 miles away?
- Why didn’t the test-fired bullet match the bullet found in Slepian’s home?
No, the FBI will try to put as much distance between itself and this can of worms as possible. Indeed, the only one eager to get the trial under way is Kopp. He writes to his friends from his prison cell in Dinan, “As I told the extradition judge here, I am innocent of this terrible thing, and I desire an American court as soon as possible to clear my name.”
The sad thing is that if Kopp is proved innocent, most Americans will never hear it, and many of those who do hear will never believe it. The well has been that deeply poisoned.
Read Part 1, “Abortion politics meet law enforcement”
Read Part 2, “James Kopp ‘like a priest'”
Read Part 3, “Leftists involved in abortionist’s death?”
Read Part 4, “Slepian softens before his death”
Read Part 5, “Jumbled dates, planted evidence?”
Read Part 6, “Smoking gun in abortion-doc killing?”
Jack Cashill is an Emmy-award winning independent writer and producer with a Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue.