"I aimed at his shoulder." Kopp, 47, said he shot Dr. Barnett Slepian with a rifle on Oct. 23, 1998, because of his outrage over abortions. The 52-year-old obstetrician, was heating soup at his home in this Buffalo suburb when he was killed by a bullet that came through a window.
Kopp told the newspaper he was "horrified" when he later learned that the bullet glanced off a bone and caused internal injuries that killed the doctor. "The bullet took a crazy ricochet, and that's what killed him. One of my goals was to keep Dr. Slepian alive," Kopp said, "and I failed at that goal." Kopp became one of the FBI's most-wanted fugitives and was captured in France in 2001.
He pleaded innocent to a state charge of second-degree murder and a federal count of interfering with the right to an abortion and is scheduled to go on trial on the state charge in February. His admission and his anti-abortion views are expected to be the basis of his defense. If convicted of murder, Kopp could get 25 years to life in prison; the federal charge carries life without parole.
District Attorney Frank Clark said he was not surprised by the admission. "He didn't admit to anything that we didn't plan to prove by other means in the trial," Clark said Wednesday.
The FBI said it obtained a close match between DNA taken from a hair found in the woods behind Slepian's house and DNA from a toothbrush Kopp left with a friend months before the shooting. Investigators also said his car was seen in the neighborhood, and a map found in Kopp's belongings bore directions to a Tennessee pawn shop where the murder weapon__found buried behind Slepian's home--was bought.
Kopp told the newspaper he decided to make a public confession because he believes his supporters have been misled, and he wants them to know the reasons behind his actions. He also said he feels sorrow for Slepian's wife and four sons. "To pick up a gun and aim it at another human being and to fire, it's not a human thing to do," Kopp said. "The only thing that would be worse, to me, would be to do nothing, and to allow abortions to continue."
His admission brought censure from both sides of the abortion debate. "Kopp is an extremist, a terrorist, a self-confessed murderer plain and simple, so his jailhouse confession is nothing more than a cynical attempt to manipulate us all through the media," said Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood.
The Rev. Flip Benham, director of the anti-abortion group Operation Save America, said Kopp "betrayed the pro-life movement, unborn children and the lord he proclaims to serve. You never overcome the problem of murder by murdering people."
Kopp said he chose Slepian's name from a telephone book, that he had never read any news accounts about the doctor, and that no one in the Buffalo anti-abortion movement had recommended Slepian as a target. He said he targeted Slepian largely because his home had a rear window facing a wooded area, where he leaned against a pine tree to steady his high-powered rifle. He said he scouted Slepian's neighborhood about six times over a year.