The Fugitive

After Years Of Hiding, Kopp Is Captured By The FBI

The FBI belives James Charles Kopp acted as a lone gunman who targeted abortion doctors with a high-powered sniper rifle.

There was a worldwide manhunt for 2 and 1/2 years, until he was arrested this March by French authorities outside a post office in the northwest part of the country. His last alleged victim was Dr. Barnett Slepian of upstate New York, who was assassinated as he stood in his kitchen…and died with his family at his side.

That attack was the fifth such attack on an abortion doctor in four years. In the previous shootings, the sniper escaped, leaving few clues. But this time, police found DNA evidence at the scene.

In short order, Kopp was identified as a suspect. 60 Minutes II Correspondent Jim Stewart reports on Kopp's views and his possible motives.

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The FBI discovered that Kopp was one of the busiest anti-abortion activists in the country, a legend within the movement. He had been arrested 33 times protesting outside abortion clinics from coast to coast and overseas.

Protest colleague Bill Koehler picketed a clinic with Kopp just one month before the Slepian shooting.

"The unborn child cannot defend itself. Therefore, it requires the defense of a third party," says Koehler.

"Jim was, from my perspective, a pacifist. In the true sense that he would rather lay down his life protecting the children rather than take the life of the abortionist who was killing the children," Koehler adds.

Like most people, Koehler described Kopp as a shy man, devoted to religion and the anti-abortion cause. A converted Catholic, he took vows of chastity and poverty to the point of rarely even bathing.

He was considered a genius with metal design. In fact, it was Kopp who dreamed up the intricate pattern of pipes and bicycle locks that protestors used in the late 1980s to blockade abortion clinics and to thoroughly frustrate police.

"He just discovered that they were the size of a person's neck, you know. And then we would link them one to the other and you know you could have six people locked in by their neck in a circle. And it was very difficult to move them," says John Arena, who was arrested with Kopp on more than one occasion.

It was an expertise that earned Kopp special recognition from the most secretive and violent of all anti-abortion groups: the Army of God. The group's handbook, which discusses how to bomb and maim abortion doctors, was believed to have been compiled by several anti-abortionists who came together at a protest at the 1988 Democratic Convention in Atlanta.

Kopp spent 41 days in jail for one arrest and received the first line of credit in the handbook, where he was referred to by the underground nickname "Atomic Dog." To the men of the FBI's psychological profile unit, it was a significant acknowledgment.

"That made a big difference for him when he heard [the acknowledgement] for the first time," says behavioral scientist James Fitzgerald, who has explored the psyche of the Unabomber and Kopp.

"The personality demeanor, persona, the things he's been searching for, for a good part of his life, may have been validated when he first heard that," Fitzgerald says.

From that moment on, Kopp saw himself differently, Fitzgerald believes. Atomic Dog was now the consummate behind-the-scenes man, a kind of anti-abortion technocrat who traveled the country, pushing the envelope toward ever more aggressive use of the locks.

To build a profile, behavioral scientists like Fitzgerald pay special attention to a suspect's roots. Kopp's roots, such as birth and sibling order, provided several details.

Born a twin in 1954 in Pasadena, Calif., Kopp was raised by his father, Charles, and his mother, Nancy. He and his twin brother, along with their sisters, had lived well.

Jim played trumpet in high school and was an Eagle Scout. But if his childhood may have seemed idyllic, his relationship with his father was not.

Lynn Kopp married Charles Kopp 14 years ago, after he had raised the children. He has since died, but she was among the first to be interviewed by the FBI.

"I've been told that he raised them as though they were little soldiers," she says. "He had been a Marine and... they were little Marines. He was very strict with them. I know that they had some very strong disciplinary action against them."

And she has a strong suspicion that Charles Kopp didn't stop at the children.

"One of the daughters told me that Chuck had been very cruel to his wife," Lynn Kopp continues. "They would be very protective of their mother. And there would be a lot of resentment towards their father."

James Kopp was absolutely devoted to his mother, but it was while he was in his 20s and studying to become a marine biologist that he met another woman who changed his life, says Lynn Kopp.

"He was very much in love with a young lady and they went to the university together and they lived together," Lynn Kopp says.

"And then one day she said that she wanted to break up with him and he couldn't accept that. And then she told him that she had an abortion, and it was with... his child And this, according to his father, is when he picked up his interests in the cause," adds Lynn Kopp.

"He's a conflicted individual in many ways," says Fitzgerald. "Here we have a highly educated [individual] - yet he's only had menial jobs in his entire life. Here's a man who espouses a strong religious belief, but yet he's on a violent campaign to kill people."

"Here's a man who associates himself mostly with women in life, yet he's never been married. And we have no evidence of any long-term, adult relationship with a female," Fitzgerald says.

"So what turned him into an extremist? These are all probably contributing factors or end results of why he became an extremist," Fitzgerald says.

By the fall of 1994, anti-abortion protests in North America had reached a fever pitch and some protesters were even resorting to violence. Three American doctors had been shot in broad daylight in front of their clinics.

But on a wet November day in Vancouver, Canada, the movement took an even more frightening turn.

The target was Dr. Garson Romalis, who had been performing abortions for 22 years. Early in the morning, someone toting an assault rifle turned up in the alley behind Dr. Romalis' home.

Through a crack in the fence and using trash cans to brace himself, the sniper took dead aim at Dr. Romalis inside his kitchen. At exactly a half-hour past sunrise, the culprit fired twice.

"He blasted a hole in my leg," says Dr. Romalis. "There was a lot of blood on the floor and I'd been bleeding very heavily and I thought I was going to die."

This direct hit was a stunning new tactic. Although abortion providers had been shot before, it was always in the open and the shooters were always arrested peacefully. But not this one.

Authorities say this shooter acted more like a guerrilla soldier, firing from concealment and running away. And the same tactics were used again on abortion doctors in Ontario, Rochester, N.Y., and in Winnipeg.

All of the victims were shot at home, around the same time of year, and all survived their wounds. That is, until Dr. Slepian died on Oct.23, 1998.

"He is fully focused on his mission," Fitzgerald says of the suspect. "His covert military mission, as I'm sure he describes it to himself, and that is to acquire target and kill."

What might have turned James Kopp from a peaceful protester into an alleged serial criminal? The FBI now says, for the first time, it thinks it knows the answer because James Kopp left behind pages and pages of clues.

"It's more useful to us in a behavioral sense rather than an evidentiary sense. It clearly states that there was an escalation in his thought process towards increased violence," Fitzgerald continues.

The FBI's psychological profile points to two pivotal events in Kopp's life that could have driven him to extremism, both in 1994. First was the death of his mother, who hastrongly supported her son's stand on abortion. The second event was a new law making it a federal offense to block access to abortion clinics, which effectively took the steam out of the anti-abortion protests and drove some hard core anti-abortionists to new extremes.

"When the goal is to prevent the loss of innocent human life, certain actions are wholly justifiable," Kohler says.

What actions? "From the sitting in front of an abortion facility to the physical destruction of that facility, to the physical destruction of an abortion provider."

Federal authorities believe Kopp had the support of militant anti-abortionists, some of whom gather every year at the White Rose Banquet and honor those who've done jail time for committing acts of anti-abortion violence. They call themselves "baby defenders," and Dennis Malvasi, a convicted bomber, was a featured speaker this past January.

"I encourage you all to continue the noble work of supporting your local baby defender, from lock gluers to bombers, from arsonists to snipers," he said at the meeting.

After Malvasi gave that speech, the FBI had tracked him to an apartment house in Brooklyn. Using sophisticated listening devices, they soon suspected it was going to become a safe haven for Kopp. Thanks in part to that surveillance, French authorities captured Kopp in the small town of Dinan at the end of March, ending his hiding. Hours later, the FBI arrested Malvasi and his wife, Loretta Mara, and charged them with helping a known fugitive elude police - Kopp, the man some in the movement consider a hero.

"His persona has escalated through the years," says Fitzgerald. "It's progressed to the point now were he is the front man for the far extremist movement portion of this movement. And that does mean a lot to him. This is the persona that perhaps he was looking for his entire life."

Kopp now sits in a French jail, awaiting an extradition hearing scheduled for next month. But whether or not he ultimately returns to the U.S. to face trial is entirely another matter. He could face the death penalty, and for that reason, French authorities may refuse to turn him over. Meanwhile, he has been visited by several Americans who report him to be firmly proclaiming his innocence.

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