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Kopp Drops Extradition Fight

An American suspected in the killing of a New York doctor who performed abortions has decided to return to the United States to prove his innocence, his lawyer said Monday.

James Kopp is charged with the October 1998 sniper-style killing of Dr. Barnett Slepian in his home near Buffalo, N.Y. He was arrested in the western French city of Dinan in March 2001 after a 2 1/2-year search.

On Monday morning, Kopp, 47, formally waived his right to appeal an extradition ruling, saying he wants to return to the United States to clear his name.

"I am innocent," Kopp said in a statement released by his French lawyer, Herve Rouzaud-Le Boeuf. "I want my innocence recognized as soon as possible."

The lawyer said his client's decision not to fight the extradition to the United States was voluntary. No extradition date has been set.

Then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin signed an order on March 22 allowing Kopp to be returned home for trial, part of the complicated French procedure in some extradition cases.

Last June, a French court recommended that Kopp be extradited to the United States. The court based its recommendation on assurances that the U.S. government would not seek the death penalty.

However, Kopp still had the possibility of appealing the case to France's Council of State. The 60-day deadline for Kopp to act was extended until June 2 because of a delay in serving the order.

Kopp is being held in Rennes, capital of France's Brittany region, about 30 miles north of where he was caught in Dinan.

Kopp has been indicted on a state murder charge and federal charges in connection with the death of Slepian, an obstetrician who provided abortions.

Kopp is also wanted by Canadian authorities for allegedly shooting and wounding three doctors there.

Investigators say it was Kopp who hid behind Slepian's home Oct. 23, 1998, and killed the doctor with a single shot from a high-powered rifle fired through a kitchen window.

Kopp, known as "Atomic Dog" in anti-abortion circles, disappeared 11 days later. U.S. investigators believe he fled first to New York City, then New Jersey, Ireland and France.

In his statement, Kopp said he wanted his innocence proved based on investigations "carried out since my arrest by my lawyers."

In New York, Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark said last week that he expected Kopp to give up his extradition fight and be returned to the United States in the next two months. Even so, he said, a trial would be unlikely before the fall of 2003.

Clark could not be immediately reached Monday for comment.
Written by Pierre Delacotte

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