Anti-Abortion Killer Ready To Die

Caption Paul Hill smiles during a news conference at the Florida State Prison in Starke, Fla., Tuesday Sept. 2, 2003. Hill is scheduled to be executed Wednesday for the slayings of Dr. John Britton and his escort James Barrett outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Fla., in 1994. AP

Unrepentant to the end, former minister Paul Hill awaited execution Wednesday for the shotgun slayings of an abortion doctor and his bodyguard outside a Pensacola clinic nine years ago.

Barring an unlikely last-minute stay, Hill, 49, will be put to death by lethal injection Wednesday evening for the 1994 murders of Dr. John Britton and his escort, retired Air Force Lt. Col. James Herman Barrett. Barrett's wife, June, was also wounded.

Hill had final visits Wednesday with his wife and son, along with his spiritual adviser, parents and two sisters. His two daughters visited him earlier in the week.

He was also served a last meal of steak, broccoli, a baked potato, salad, orange sherbet and iced tea.

Extra law enforcement officers, explosives-sniffing dogs and undercover officers were posted outside Florida State Prison to prevent any protests by death penalty and abortion foes from getting out of hand.

"We don't want an incident of national proportion," Sheriff Bob Milner said.

Hill, who didn't fight his execution, said he feels no remorse and suggested Florida state officials will be making him a martyr when he becomes the first person executed in the United States for anti-abortion rights violence.

"The sooner I am executed … the sooner I am going to heaven," Hill said in a jailhouse interview Tuesday. "I expect a great reward in heaven. I am looking forward to glory. I don't feel remorse."

"More people should act as I have acted," Hill added.

The St. Petersburg Times reports Hill says he became involved with drugs as a teen and found religion at 17. He then became a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian church and moved to West Palm Beach with his wife.

Hill, a father of three, says he left the church because it didn't offer infant communion, which he felt was necessary, and moved to a Pensacola church that did. He became more active in anti-abortion activities in Pensacola, a hotbed for the movement.

Abortion-rights groups worry Hill's execution will trigger reprisals by those who share his steadfast belief that violence to stop abortion is justified. Several Florida officials connected to the case received threatening letters last week, accompanied by rifle bullets.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who was named in one of those threatening letters, said Tuesday the threats would not keep him from carrying out the law.

"I'm not going to be bullied," Bush said.

Bush also said: "I'm not going to change the deeply held views that I have on (the death penalty) because others have deeply held views that disagree.

"I totally respect them. And they should respect what the rule of law is here in our state."

Death penalty opponents have also pointed to the prospect of violence as a reason to stop this execution in particular.

"We're very concerned that Paul Hill's call for violence may be picked up by any person to whom God speaks," said Abe Bonowitz, the head of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "That could be prevented. It should be."

Hill has supporters who have maintained a Web site in his honor, with snapshots and ballads, but most major anti-abortion rights groups have repudiated him.

"Abortion is a terrible evil, but it is never right to repay evil with evil and the actions of Paul Hill and others who would go after those that work in abortion clinics is just unjustifiably wrong," said Mike McCarron, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference.

However, some of his backers liken him to John Brown, the militant abolitionist hanged for his crimes after his pre-Civil War assault on the federal garrison at Harper's Ferry.

One militant anti-abortion rights group, Missionaries to the Unborn, likens Hill to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor from Germany who was executed after joining the plot to assassinate Hitler.

"Paul Hill is being martyred tomorrow, and that's wrong," said Bonowitz.

The threatening letters were received in August by Attorney General Charlie Crist, two corrections officials and the Pensacola judge who sentenced Hill.

A source familiar with the contents of one of the letters said the page-and-a-half message was coherent and primarily about the evil of "killing babies." It also contained specific threats against the recipient.

Hill's would be the third execution in Florida this year, the 18th of Bush's governorship and the 57th in the state since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty.

The slaying of Britton and Barrett was one of several violent anti-abortion rights acts in the 1990s. Dr. David Gunn was murdered in Pensacola, Fla., in 1993, and in 1998, an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala. was bombed and Dr. Barnett Slepian was gunned down in Amherst, N.Y.
  • Lloyd Vries

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