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Posted on Wed, Sep. 03, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Doctor's killer welcomes execution
Antiabortionist expects `reward'

plong@herald.com
'LOOKING FORWARD TO GLORY': Paul Hill is to be executed today. PETER ANDREW BOSCH/HERALD STAFF
'LOOKING FORWARD TO GLORY': Paul Hill is to be executed today. PETER ANDREW BOSCH/HERALD STAFF

Smiling and occasionally chuckling, a confident Paul Hill predicted Tuesday -- a day before his execution -- he'll receive a ''reward in heaven'' for slaying an abortion doctor and his escort.

Anti-death penalty groups warn that Hill's execution today could spur a renewed round of violence against abortion clinics, and as police outside Florida State Prison set up the tightest security since the 1989 execution of serial killer Ted Bundy, Hill spent his next-to-last day on earth defending his actions.

''To be quite honest about it, I'm expecting a great reward in heaven for my obedience,'' Hill told 40 newspaper and TV reporters in a visiting area inside the prison where he is scheduled to be put to death by injection at 6 p.m. for the 1994 shotgun shooting deaths of Dr. John Britton and his driver, retired Air Force Col. James Barrett. ``God put me in extraordinary circumstances and under those circumstances I needed to act.''

''I'm looking forward to glory, no doubt about it,'' said Hill, who will be the first murderer to be executed for the death of an abortion doctor.

In the hourlong interview, Hill appeared relaxed and said he was without remorse. He provided a chillingly detailed account of the shooting, telling reporters how he hid the shotgun in an antiabortion protest sign and arrived early at the Pensacola clinic that day to avoid police. He said he killed Barrett first, then he pointed the shotgun at ''the abortionist,'' reloading and firing five more rounds ``until all moving stopped.''

''It doesn't take long to realize that killing a mass murderer under those circumstances is a reasonable thing to do, and under the circumstances, is something I believe was long overdue,'' Hill said.

`NECESSARY MEANS'

Most antiabortion groups have taken pains to distance themselves from Hill and his belief that he was justified in killing Britton to save 'innocent children,' but the one-time Presbyterian minister said he hopes his death will inspire others to take the ''necessary means'' to prevent abortions.

''I say to the pro-life community, that if you believe abortion is lethal force, you should uphold the force needed to stop it,'' Hill said. ``Force should be resisted with force.''

He added: ``More people should have acted as I acted.''

And Hill suggested that even though he has been cast out by the mainstream antiabortion movement, God sanctioned the slaying.

''I believe and trust the Lord will use my actions to save innocent children,'' Hill said. ``I hope [it] will ultimately lead to the demise of legal abortion.''

Clinics across the country are girding for a feared new round of attacks following Hill's death. Hill was one of a group of people convicted of violence against clinics in the late 1990s.

Gov. Jeb Bush, who signed Hill's death warrant in July, was similarly resolved.

He told reporters Tuesday that the pleas to halt Hill's execution -- and a series of death-threat letters sent to public officials -- had not changed his support for the death penalty, particularly for Hill.

''Florida has a law that I have a duty to fulfill and I believe in the protecting of innocent life. I also believe it is not inconsistent to suggest that when a person in a premeditated fashion, convicted by a jury of his peers, murders two people and he is convicted to death, that carrying out that sentence is appropriate,'' Bush said.

ACTIVISTS' CALLS

Anti-death penalty activists renewed their call Tuesday for a halt to the execution. Britton's stepdaughter, Catherine Britton Fairbanks, called the execution ``murder.''

''I've been against the death penalty for a long time,'' Fairbanks said. ``I can't make an exception for Paul Hill.''

''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, whose group, Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, first sounded the alarm about creating a martyr.

DROPPED APPEALS

But Hill said he welcomes his execution, and dropped his appeals to speed it up.

''The thought of going to heaven and receiving an approval seemed very inviting,'' Hill said.

Worried that extreme antiabortion activists might try to interfere with the execution, Bradford County Sheriff Bob Milner said nearly 100 law-enforcement officers -- about 70 more than usual for an execution -- will be on hand, including deputies from three sheriff's agencies, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Highway Patrol.

Protesters, who will be allowed to mill in a field across the street from the prison, will have their cars inspected and sniffed by a bomb-detecting dog.

Police will also inspect any items carried into the protest area, Milner said.

BRACING FOR PROTESTS

Hill has been lauded as a martyr to the cause on some extreme antiabortion websites, and several have posted maps and directions to the prison in north-central Florida.

Milner said police were bracing for as many as 500 demonstrators, ranging from anti-death-penalty advocates and pro-choice activists to militant antiabortion activists and those who back the death penalty.

Hill visited Tuesday with his wife, his two daughters and his son, as well as with a former lawyer and friends in the antiabortion movement.

Across the street from the prison, television satellite trucks set up shop as holding areas for protesters went up, marked off with yellow caution tape.

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