IAMI, Aug. 20 — Three officials in
Florida have received death threats as the state prepares for the
nation's first execution of someone convicted of murdering a doctor
who performed abortions, investigators said today.
The threats were made in letters sent on Monday to the Florida
attorney general, the state corrections secretary and the warden at
the Florida State Prison, where the convicted man, Paul Hill, is to
be executed on Sept. 3 for fatally shooting a doctor and his
volunteer escort at a Pensacola clinic in 1994.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement did not disclose the
wording of the threats and refused to comment on reports that the
letters also contained bullets.
"We really can't say anything because it is an ongoing
investigation," a department spokeswoman, Kristen Perezluha,
Dr. John Britton, 69, and his safety escort, James Barrett, 74,
were shot and killed as they arrived in Dr. Barrett's pickup truck
at the Ladies Center on July 29, 1994. Dr. Barrett's wife, June, who
was also in the truck, was wounded.
Mr. Hill, a former minister and frequent protester against
abortion, told the police who arrested him shortly after the
shooting that "no innocent babies are going to be killed in that
clinic today," according to trial records.
He acted as his own lawyer and did not call any defense
witnesses. He had sought to argue that the killings were justified
because they prevented abortions. The judge barred that defense
because abortion is legal.
Death penalty opponents urged Gov. Jeb Bush to commute Mr. Hill's
sentence to life imprisonment, with one group saying that making him
a martyr could inspire more killings.
"Jeb Bush is giving Hill and his followers a platform to
encourage others to copy the crime," said Abraham Bonowitz, director
of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
Mr. Bush's office replied that the governor had thoroughly
reviewed the case before signing the death warrant and "he
determined there was no reason to alter the court-imposed sentence
in Mr. Hill's case."