Paul Hill executed

Hill's actions spur Christian debate

Orlando Sentinel/September 2, 2003
By John Kennedy and Bob Mahlburg

Starke -- Paul Hill, a former minister turned shotgun killer, was executed by lethal injection Wednesday at Florida State Prison, becoming the first American executed for anti-abortion violence.

Hill, 49, was condemned for the 1994 slayings of Dr. John Britton and volunteer escort James Barrett, as they arrived at a Pensacola abortion clinic. The double murder capped a decade of violence by anti-abortion advocates in the Panhandle city.

Outside the razor-wired prison in this north Florida town Wednesday, a crowd of about 80 abortion opponents and anti-death penalty advocates gathered in an open field to protest Hill's execution, battling at first the sultry heat of the day and then enduring drenching thunderstorms.

"Abortion doctors commit premeditated, cold-blooded murder 10 or 20 times a day,'' said the Rev. David Trosch, a Catholic priest from Mobile, Ala. "What Paul Hill did was absolutely justified. It was not murder. It was taking the life of a murderer who intended to commit further murders.''

Protestors came from as far away as New Jersey and California but few major national activists attended. Many anti-abortion groups have disavowed Hill because of the killings.

A married, father of three, Hill had told reporters in a jailhouse interview Tuesday that he is a martyr in the anti-abortion cause and hoped his death would inspire more clinic attacks.

"I believe in the short and long term, more and more people will act on the principles for which I started," Hill said in the hourlong interview, during which he expressed no remorse.

Security outside the state prison was the tightest its been since serial killer Ted Bundy was executed in 1989. Local and state law officers, some with bomb-sniffing dogs, guarded the entrance to the prison, while helicopters hovered overheard.

Even in the early afternoon hours before the execution, protesters held signs along the roadway and at a nearby restaurant. A red Toyota truck with American flags and pictures of bloody fetuses drove up and down the highway in front of the prison.

The soft-spoken Hill, tall, pale and with receding blond hair, spent Wednesday morning saying goodbye to his wife, 18-year-old son, parents and two sisters, having met earlier this week with his two daughters, age 15 and 13.

He ordered a last meal of charbroiled sirloin steak, broccoli with hollandaise sauce, baked potato with sour cream and butter, salad, orange sherbet and iced tea.

Hill's spiritual advisor, Rev. Donald Spitz, founder of the anti-abortion group, Army of God, also met with Hill. Spitz said Hill was prepared to die.

"He is smiling most of the time," said Spitz, director of Pro-Life Virginia. "He has not wavered one inch from believing that what he did is right."

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