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James Kopp Arrested in France

Aired March 29, 2001 - 3:15 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Joie Chen at CNN Center. We want to take you straight to Washington now, and the Department of Justice holding a press conference. Attorney General John Ashcroft, as you see there, as well as the FBI Director, Louis Freeh, who is also with him at this Justice Department briefing. They're going to be talking about the arrest of one of the FBI's 10 most wanted suspects earlier in the day in France -- this would be a suspect in the sniper shooting murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, a Buffalo, New York are doctors who, authorities believe, was killed because he provided abortions.

Let's listen now to Attorney General Ashcroft.

JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I am grateful to have this opportunity this afternoon to commend FBI director Louis Freeh, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and French law enforcement officials for their work in apprehending James Charles Kopp. I also want to thank the U.S. Attorney's Office in Buffalo, New York, the Office of International Affairs in the criminal division here at the Justice Department, as well as the Office of Enforcement operations here at the Justice Department. Additionally, I want to thank for cooperation in this important matter, Ed Adamson (ph), the direct of Interpol. All of these individuals and agencies and components of the justice effort in this country deserve commendation for their success in working with French authorities.

Mr. Kopp was apprehended on a provisional arrest warrant based on federal and state charges which were filed in 1998. Kopp was indicted on federal charges of using deadly force to prevent Dr. Barnett Slepian from providing legally available health services. He did so using a firearm to commit a crime of violence in accordance -- according to the charges. We are committed to bringing Mr. Kopp back to the United States to face these charges. Violence is not a way to resolve our differences; that's why the FACE laws were passed. I intend to enforce those laws, and this enforcement action made possible as a result of this excellent teamwork is simply one of those opportunities to do what is right and to avoid the kind of violence and injustice that would otherwise occur.

The justice department is bringing the formal extradition process -- is beginning that formal extradition process with France at this time. So, I want to commend, again, the director of the FBI, French law enforcement officials, officials with Interpol, officials with the office of enforcement operations and those officials in the office of International Affairs here in our criminal division, together with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Buffalo, New York for this achievement.

I'd call upon the director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, at this time. Thank you, Louis.

LOUIS FREEH, FBI DIRECTOR: Thank you, attorney general. I just want to make a couple of brief remarks. First of all I want to commend the attorney general and his staff here, as well as the Western District of New York U.S. Attorney's Office for really outstanding legal work in a very difficult case. A case that, from the criminal justice point of view, is important with respect to the enforcement of our FACE statute. It also has a tremendous impact because of the international nature of this case, and I want to take a moment to thank not just the French National Police, Director General Bergeno (ph), one of my friends and colleagues for their assistance on this case. Very prompt, very capable and very efficient police enforcement action done at the result of the United States' request and the Department of Justice provisional arrest warrant.

I also want to emphasize that the case was done with the assistance of many other countries, the Canadian -- Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Commissioner Zackerdeli (ph), who I spoke to earlier. Also, law enforcement officials in Ireland as well as the United Kingdom. And this was a case where we used our most sophisticated investigative techniques to locate him. We also know from the course of the investigation that he took particular steps to avoid detection and capture, including the use of public phones, anonymous e-mail-type communications and a lot of deliberate efforts to avoid apprehension and location.

So the police enforcement authorities, all the countries that I mentioned, had to overcome this to achieve this success.

He was arrested at about 5:30 French time in Dinon, which is in the northwest portion of the country, the Court de Nord (ph). He was arrested without any incident; he was unarmed at the time of the arrest. The French authorities are also now conducting searches as well as additional interviews at our request, and will be able, pursuant to a treaty request, to turn over those materials to us. So we're very pleased with this arrest.

Under the charges, which are only charges in the indictment this was a particularly egregious and violent action. If you remember that Dr. Slepian was murdered in his home in the presence of his four sons and his wife. So this is a case where the capture of the charged defendant is particularly gratifying for those of us who are charged with protecting the people and enforcing our laws.

So again I want to thank you, attorney general, for your leadership. I want to thank your colleagues in the department and literally dozens of law enforcement officials in all those countries for doing a very superb job. Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. Freeh, (OFF-MIKE) investigation into those who may have harbored him or sheltered him in the United States and aided his escape? FREEH: Yes we are. We have identified certain subjects in the United States. We are moving against them now and there may be other people to be identified in the course of now what can be a covert investigation.

QUESTION: Mr. Freeh, can, you tell us what nation pinpointed his location?

FREEH: The United States.

QUESTION: The United States did; so the French basically carried out the snatch based on intelligence provided by the United States?

FREEH: Yes, sir, by the FBI.

QUESTION: How long ago did you know that he was in France, about?

FREEH: Going back several weeks we got some very strong leads, which we then corroborated through investigative means that he was in France. As I mentioned, our investigation determined that he was about to leave France. He was waiting for the receipt of some additional funds. And we believe, had he left, it would have been further complicated in terms of finding his location.

QUESTION: You mentioned Canada, Ireland, the UK and France. Is that the route that Mr. Kopp allegedly took?

FREEH: Not necessarily, but all of those countries supplied very critical information. Some of it had to do with communications, some of it had to do with travel documentation. But not necessarily the physical route that he took.


FREEH: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Had he been in France very long?

FREEH: As far as we know, for the last several months.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) anti-abortion groups here in the United States?

FREEH: Not at this time.


FREEH: I can't comment on that particularly.

QUESTION: Is there any evidence that he might have been targeting doctors or abortion providers in Europe?

FREEH: I don't have any information about that; but, again, we have to now conduct an overt investigation -- interview people, do a lot of things we couldn't do when we were trying to safeguard his location for purposes of arrest. So now we can conduct a full investigation.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) timetable on extradition, sir?

FREEH: It's a long process. We have an extradition treaty with France. That's a lot of restrictions in the treaty with respect to the penalty. These are diplomatic issues that have to be determined. But because he is a United States person charged not just federally but, as you know, in Eerie County as well as in Canada, we expect that he will be extradited. We certainly will work closely with our French counterparts.

QUESTION: Is one of the problems, though, with the extradition treaty, one of the restrictions -- and maybe this is true of the attorney general -- is one of the problems the death penalty and France's reluctance to extradite someone who might face the death penalty?

FREEH: We're just beginning to -- the process of extradition now, and we'll have to confront all of the issues that are attendant to that during the process. I wouldn't comment further.

CHEN: The Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Louis Freeh speaking before reporters at the Justice Department in Washington this afternoon. Talking about the arrest of James Kopp -- James Charles Kopp -- 46 years old. A suspect in the slaying of Dr. Barnett Slepian just over two years ago in the Buffalo, New York area. Dr. Slepian, it is believed by investigators, was killed because he provided abortions in the course of his medical service.

James Kopp has been a fugitive pretty much since right after the death of Dr. Slepian. The attorney general and the FBI director noting that Kopp's arrest effective in France earlier in the day was a product of work by several different agencies and several different countries, in fact. He noted cooperation from, of course, France, the United Kingdom and Ireland and Canada in the course of following up on all of this.

CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena is standing by for us in our Washington bureau -- talk more about this case and about the announcement today.

Kelli, one of the things I note is the attorney general making specific mention, and sort of underlining his intention to enforce the laws about blocking access to abortion clinics. Why is that significant today?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, as you know John Ashcroft came under intention criticism when he was nominated for the post of attorney general because of his very staunch anti-abortion views. When he was under questioning, he did say that he would strongly enforce any laws surrounding the issue of abortion, one of those, of course, being the federal FACE law, which is Freedom of Access to Clinic Entries. You can't intimidate anyone or harm anyone who is involved in performing legal abortions. So to hear John Ashcroft today defend the law, say that he would strongly enforce it will probably be very well received from some of those critics who were concerned when he was first named.

Just so you know, we're looking at a full screen now -- looking at the indictments that Mr. Kopp is facing. He faces three state charges. One is second-degree murder; the second of reckless endangerment; the third, criminal possession of a weapon. And as I mentioned, the federal charge falls under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law, which includes the -- causing death of someone with a firearm.

Now, that does, by the way, carry the possibility of capital punishment. And as you heard, there was some discussion over whether or not there would be an extradition problem with France. France is a Catholic country; does have some hesitance in terms of extraditing criminals who may face the death penalty because they are opposed to the death penalty. You heard from FBI Direct Louis Freeh and Attorney General Ashcroft that they didn't expect any problems, but Ashcroft did also say that they were just beginning the process and they would face those issues and refuse to comment any further on whether or not he expected any difficulty.

The -- also you should know, the one thing that I wanted to just point out, they have also IDed people here in the United States who allegedly helped Mr. Kopp get around and funded him, so that investigation does continue. And as FBI Director Freeh said, now they can do this investigation in a much more open way, questioning and issuing search warrants and so on because they don't have to worry about jeopardizing the location of Mr. Kopp now that he's in custody -- Joie.

CHEN: Kelli, I noted that both -- they did talk about the possibility that they suspected Kopp was about to flee France if he was able to secure some additional funds. I wonder, though, too, I mean, in the course of giving this news conference I would have expected that there would be greater detail, particularly about the arrest. And it has been a subject of a great deal of public interest -- an arrest made in another country. I somehow would have expected that they would have provided a little more color, description of how this arrest was affected. It seemed, though, that they were still keeping the cards very close to the vest.

ARENA: Yes, very dry. I was hoping for the same thing, and all we learned was that it was the United States officials who had pinpointed his whereabouts, and that French officials then went ahead and performed the arrest -- but that was it. We don't know -- we know that he was also unarmed and that it was a nonevent.

But where he was? Was he at someone's home? Was he out in public? You know, how did they track him down? I mean, none of that. And part of the reason could be is because that investigation does continue. Search warrants have been issued, questioning does need to take place and I will say that the FBI does hesitate to comment in great detail about ongoing investigations. So that is very typical of the FBI, although with such a public case as this, you're right, we would expect a little more to satiate the curiosity.

CHEN: CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena for us at our Washington bureau today. Again, this is the latest coverage we're getting -- the latest information we are getting from the Justice Department regarding the arrest of James Kopp, accused in the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian more than two years ago. This is a case that is still developing and, of course, Kopp was one of the FBI's 10 most wanted -- at least until today.

CNN will continue our coverage of that story; we'll bring you the latest details as come into us.



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