J.J. Goldberg

Did Shooter of Abortion Doctor Aim To Kill Jews?

By J.J. Goldberg

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
James Charles Kopp in court, 2002

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a request by anti-abortion militant James Charles Kopp to review his conviction in the 1998 killing of Buffalo obstetrician Barnett Slepian.

Kopp is serving a life sentence in federal prison in Pennsylvania on a 2003 New York state conviction for second degree murder, as well a 2007 federal conviction for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

He claims his rights were violated by improper representation, as well as by a judge’s refusal to let him give testimony about his view of abortion. This was his second unsuccessful bid for Supreme Court review of his case.

Slepian was killed on Friday night, October 23, 1998, shortly after returning home from synagogue where he was saying Kaddish for his late father. Kopp admitted shooting him through the kitchen window from nearby woods with a high-power sniper rifle.

Canadian police consider Kopp a suspect in a series of five similar shootings of abortion providers in their homes in southern Canada and upstate New York between 1994 and 1998. Those shootings became known as the Remembrance Day shootings because they all took place within a few days of November 11, marked by Canadian anti-abortion activists as Remembrance Day for the Unborn. Slepian, the last victim, was the only fatality.

A striking aspect of the case, though seldom discussed, is the fact that four of the five victims were Jewish, and the name of fifth is sometimes described by observers as sounding Jewish (apparently based on off-the-record speculation by Canadian law enforcement officials).

Whether the victims’ identities indicate an anti-Semitic edge to the shooter’s (or shooters’) motives is a matter of dispute, when it’s discussed at all. But there’s intriguing evidence. Five days after Slepian’s killing in Buffalo, police in nearby Hamilton, New York, found a poster of his face in the station washroom with an X and the words “Killer, Jew, Nazi” scrawled across it. It’s not known whether the poster had any connection to the killer.

The significance of the question goes beyond mere ethnic curiosity. If the shooter was specifically targeting Jewish physicians, whether inspired by anti-Semitic conspiracy theories or actual statistics, then the conclusion points to a North American wave of far-right anti-Semitic terrorism during the mid-1990s. That’s information worth knowing, even 15 years later, in order to evaluate current and future threats.

Based on the website of the National Clinic Access Project, the victims are: Garson Romalis, Vancouver, November 8, 1994; Hugh Short, Hamilton, Ont., November 10, 1995; Jack Fainman, Winnipeg, November 11, 1997; David Gandell, Rochester, October 28, 1997, and Slepian.

The shooting of Short, the only non-Jewish victim, is the only one besides Slepian’s in which Kopp has been charged. Canadian authorities have asked for Kopp to be extradited for trial, but U.S. officials reportedly insist he serve out his American sentences first.

He’s serving consecutive sentences of 25 years to life on his New York state murder charge and life plus 10 years on federal charges, which include killing an abortion provider and using a scope-equipped military-style assault weapon in commission of a violent crime.

As a known anti-abortion militant, Kopp became a suspect within days after the shooting. He fled to Mexico, then Ireland and finally in March 2002 to France, where he was arrested with two false Irish passports in his possession. The FBI believed he had assistance from other extremists. He was extradited to New York in June 2002.

After confessing in a November 2002 Buffalo News interview, in which he insisted he only meant to injure Slepian to prevent more abortions, he waived his right to a jury trial and was convicted in March 2003 of second degree murder.

In his federal appeal for review Kopp claimed he was denied a fair trial in state court because the lawyer he chose to represent him, Bruce Barket, had a conflict of interest since he was also representing two persons charged with harboring Kopp as a fugitive. Barket was barred from representing Kopp in his 2007 federal trial because of the conflict and Kopp ended up representing himself.

Kopp’s Supreme Court bid was an appeal of two U.S. District Court decisions in 2011 denying him review. One of the decisions, by U.S. District Judge Michael Tedesca of Rochester, took note of Kopp’s insistence on having Barket as his lawyer and called his appeal “so disingenuous as to suggest bad faith.”

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: U.S. Supreme Court, Remembrance Day Shootings, James Charles Kopp, Jack Fainman, Hugh Short, Garson Romalis, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, David Gandell, Barnett Slepian, Anti-Semitic Terrorism, Anti-Abortion Extremism

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.