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Mercenary for Justice

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They’d already picked up Loretta on the way home from the laundromat. Now they were on their way in to get him.

Joseph hung up.

The cell rang again.

“Please help me! Help me! I got people—I got cops all over!”

Joseph hung up again.

It took two years of legal wrangling, but on March 18, 2003, James Kopp was convicted of the murder of Barnett Slepian. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. In 2007, he was convicted for the federal offense of blocking access to an abortion clinic and received a life sentence without parole. Dennis and Loretta were jailed, too, for more than two years, as their cases slogged through the courts. At first they seemed likely to face up to ten years each for obstruction of justice and five other counts, but eventually they were just indicted for harboring a fugitive, carrying sentences of only a few years. The prosecutor tried to link Dennis more closely to the murder, claiming they had a witness who had spotted him in Barnett Slepian’s neighborhood less than two weeks after the killing, perhaps to retrieve the gun. But the judge declined to hear this witness and on August 21, 2003, sentenced Dennis and Loretta to time served. They were free.

On their way out of the courthouse, a reporter asked Dennis if he was still part of the anti-abortion movement. “I am an abolitionist,” Dennis said. “I have never been a member of the anti-abortion movement. So I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Dennis’s close friend Abe Laufgas says that Dennis and Loretta are now living “somewhere around” Newark, in a slum not so different from the East New York of Dennis’s youth. They’re reunited with their boys (a sister of Loretta’s took care of them while they were in jail) and have a third child, a girl named Lydia. The family lives largely off the grid, says Laufgas—no cell phones, no real names. Dennis repairs computers—“nothing you’d call a steady job,” Laufgas says. Money is tight. “They won’t take welfare from the state, ’cause then the kids can’t be home-tutored, and then the state’s going to tell them what to do. They’re still revolutionaries, you know?”

They’re also still in touch with their friends from White Rose. “As a matter of fact, I was in touch with Loretta just a week ago,” Michael Bray of Army of God told me in June. They had been hashing out a theological matter. “I was working on a new catechism. It’s for children. Just a fresh look at what the Christian faith is now. And I had her review it for me. Because I know she’s sharp.”

Last year, Loretta attended a court appearance of Kopp’s and was spotted by a reporter. “My life will never be normal,” she snapped. “Not when this country is bathed in the blood of millions of children. All I can smell is the stench—the stench of the blood.”

James Kopp is now several years into his sentence at a federal prison in West Virginia. Not that long ago, he was asked why Loretta and Dennis named their second child James. “You’ll have to ask Loretta,” he said with a smile.

Joseph is 62 now—round but solid, balding and tan, almost always grinning and fidgeting. Since 2002, he’s been living with Rachel in a Spanish-modern villa in a well-manicured gated community in Florida, having collected most of the $1 million reward for information leading to Kopp’s capture. He isn’t in a witness-protection program—as an informant, not a witness, he was never offered that option—but he’s trying to live as if he were. He and Rachel aren’t listed in public phone or address records, and he makes ample use of caller I.D. Fearing reprisals by pro-life activists, he asked to change his name and his wife’s for this story.

When I visited Joseph earlier this year, he walked me through his place, showing off his five bedrooms, five flat-screens, a small pool, and the garden he tends during the day while Rachel works. Much of the time, he admits, he’s bored out of his mind. The only thing to do here is play golf. “I’ve never played golf in my life,” he says, laughing. “I’m from Brooklyn.”

He and Dennis haven’t spoken since that phone call, the day of Dennis’s arrest. But Dennis did try to reach out to him from prison. At his dining-room table, Joseph sifts through cartons of old papers and finds the letters—more than a dozen from Dennis, all in longhand. One early letter is long, scorching, accusatory: “You cannot imagine the stunning blow and crushing spirit we have undergone by all this suffering and betrayal,” Dennis wrote.


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