Assassin Supported by Baptist Official is Convicted

Anti-Abortion Movement

James Kopp, already serving 25 years to life on a 2003 New York state murder conviction for the 1998 shooting of Dr. Barnett Slepian, was convicted in January of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act by assassinating the physician as he talked with his wife and children in the family's kitchen. Kopp, 52, is also suspected in the shootings of four other abortion doctors in the U.S. and Canada. He faces a maximum prison term of life without parole when he is sentenced on the federal charges June 19.

During the trial, Kopp, who had participated in more than 100 anti-abortion demonstrations outside reproductive health care clinics, told the court he believed the best way to prevent abortion was to seriously injure abortion providers. He was denied a request to show the jury pictures of aborted fetuses.

Kopp again maintained that he never intended his shooting to result in Slepian's death, after which the anti-abortion extremist fled the Buffalo area for Mexico, Ireland and then France, where he was finally captured in March 2001 as one of the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" fugitives. Kopp admitted the killing to a newspaper reporter in November of 2002.

It was after this admission that Wiley Drake, a well-known Baptist minister from Buena Park, Calif., signed a "Declaration of Support for James Kopp."

This public declaration of support for murder did not stop the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), a major religious denomination with more than 16 million members, from selecting Drake as its second vice president last June, however.

SBC officials declined to comment publicly on the choice of Drake, who also serves as national chaplain of the anti-immigration Minuteman Project (President Bush has described the Minutemen as "vigilantes"). Generally, the position of second vice president is honorary, with powers limited to chairing small sections of the annual meeting. Drake will have no official duties in his new capacity, nor will he publicly represent the SBC in the media.

In the letter of support for Kopp, which was still carried on the extremist "Army of God" website at press time, Drake and his co-signers wrote: "We, the signers of this declaration, proclaim that we support and stand for righteousness in the defense of the unborn. ... We will stand with our brother Jim Kopp. We will support him for his love of unborn children." It ends with a reference to "those who have made the ultimate sacrifice" in defending unborn children.