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Mercenary for Justice

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Dennis Malvasi: Joseph's longtime friend and the first person to bomb a New York City abortion clinic.  

They met again on a sunny afternoon at a pretzel stand outside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. Within minutes they found they knew a lot of the same people, and Joseph was enthralled. Here was someone from the old days who’d gone on to become a war hero, someone who made him feel like a big shot just by knowing him. “It was the same old Dennis,” Joseph remembers. “Easygoing: ‘Everything’s going to be all right.’ A sweetheart. He stood up for this country and the war. I looked up to him—respected him for doing it.”

Dennis spent the early weeks of 1987 hiding from the police—and laughing over the phone (though not with Joseph) about what a bad job the cops were doing finding him. The manhunt might have gone on longer if Cardinal O’Connor hadn’t appeared on the news in late February, delivering a plea for Dennis, who was publicly identified as the main suspect, to give himself up. The next day, Dennis, wearing an eyepatch and sunglasses, walked unnoticed into the Church Street headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. “It’s hard to turn down the cardinal,” he said. Then he asked for a lawyer.

Dennis pleaded guilty to two of the attacks, and the other two charges were dropped; largely because no one had been seriously hurt, he was sentenced to just seven years. Behind bars, he grew more defiant. “History will show that abortion in New York State was nothing more than the dissipation of the black and Puerto Rican populace,” Dennis said in his one jailhouse interview.

One day in 1992, Joseph got a call from someone he and Dennis both knew. The two men hadn’t been in touch since the conviction. “Dennis is coming out,” their friend said. “Take him in.”

They made a point of never talking about what Dennis had done. “We made a pact,” Joseph remembers. “I said, ‘Look, don’t drag me into your world. What you have done in the past, it’s history.’ He promised me, ‘Yes,’ and that’s it. I took his word for it. But Dennis had two different lives.”

So, eventually, would Joseph.

Joseph remembers the first few months after Dennis got out as an idyll. They lived near each other in Brooklyn again, goofing off like they were kids. Joseph bought Dennis a used Oldsmobile, co-signed for his credit card, helped him find odd jobs. Taking care of Dennis made Joseph feel like the important one. They chased women, too—until one day Dennis dropped by Joseph’s place with a woman dressed in a simple long skirt, like a Mennonite. She seemed about 30, a decade younger than Dennis, and was plain-looking, with long dark hair and dark skin, and green eyes.

“This is Rose,” Dennis said. “She’s gonna be my wife.” Rose was the nickname of Loretta Marra.

Loretta was the closest thing the radical pro-life movement had to Joan of Arc: a compelling, innocent-seeming young woman speaking out against the evils of abortion. She was born into the movement. Her father was a Fordham philosophy professor named William Marra who ran as a third-party right-to-life candidate for president in 1988. From an early age, she began speaking at demonstrations and chaining herself to other protesters outside clinics in America and Europe. Her good friend and perhaps closest spiritual ally in the abortion war was a man named James Charles Kopp.

A biology graduate student from Pasadena, California, who abandoned his career to devote his life to saving the unborn, Kopp had been a regular at clinic protests throughout the eighties. He went to work for Randall Terry, who founded Operation Rescue, and crossed paths with Michael Bray, a central figure in the Army of God. His first major contribution to the cause was the invention of handmade, Kryptonite-lock-style shackles that could block clinic entrances for hours. He met Loretta’s father at a protest in Florida in the summer of 1986, when she was just 23. Friends said Kopp and Loretta were instant soul mates, almost finishing each other’s thoughts. Some say Kopp was in love with her.

Loretta and Dennis were married in 1994. Two years later, Loretta delivered a baby boy named Louis. A second son—James—was born in April 1999. The couple lived secretly, Joseph says, using fake driver’s licenses, dodging Dennis’s probation officer, keeping anyone from seeing the inside of their apartment. According to Joseph, Loretta once persuaded Dennis to quit a job after she noticed that one of the company’s contracts was with a hospital that performed abortions. Joseph didn’t know until years later that their wedding had never been recorded with the state and that Loretta had delivered both her boys in Canada. And he didn’t know that even after Loretta and Dennis got married, Loretta had kept in touch with her friend James Kopp.


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