Action necessary, Hill writes in letter
Paul Hill, who is to be executed in two weeks for the shotgun slayings of an abortion doctor and his bodyguard in Pensacola, says he’s at peace with himself and would probably kill again.
Hill, a one-time Presbyterian minister, has said God led him to shoot Dr. John Britton, 69, and his driver, James Barrett, 74, as they arrived at a Pensacola abortion clinic in July 1994.
”If I were put in similar circumstances, I believe I would act similarly,” Hill said in a letter to The Herald from his Florida State Prison cell.
Death penalty opponents are urging Gov. Jeb Bush to stop the Sept. 3 execution, warning that a state-sanctioned death could turn Hill into a martyr for extremists in the antiabortion movement.
On Monday, three death-threat letters — accompanied by bullets — were received in the mail by Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist and two top state prison officials.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced Wednesday that it, too, will launch an investigation. The FBI said it is monitoring the investigations.
Friends who were visiting Hill this week said prison officials removed all the Death Row inmate’s possessions from his cell immediately after the threatening letters were received. Among the items taken: theological treatises, Bibles, friends’ and attorneys’ phone numbers, writing instruments and Hill’s work papers, including a book he’s writing, Mix My Blood.
”They cleaned him out,” said Anthony Leake, an activist from Odessa, Mo., who has been friends with Hill for a decade and has visited him daily for the past three weeks.
A spokesman for the Department of Corrections said he could not say anything about the case, citing the criminal investigations. He said Hill’s materials were returned to him.
Hill, 49, belonged to a small sect within the antiabortion movement that sanctioned the use of ”justifiable homicide” to stop abortion doctors. Most mainstream antiabortion organizations distanced themselves from him.
But Hill, who would become the first killer of an abortion doctor to be executed in the nation, has achieved near-cult status among extreme opponents to abortion. One publication, The Abortion Abolitionist, compares him to patriots such as anti-slavery killer John Brown, and suggests that there will be divine retribution for Hill’s death.
This month, Hill agreed to answer questions in writing from The Herald. Asked if he considered himself a martyr, Hill said he hoped to be remembered “as someone who willingly died to save unborn children.”
”I do not regret using the means necessary for defending the unborn,” he wrote. “My conscience affirms me for having taken this defensive action.”
Asked about the commonly held belief that the Bible never justifies killing, Hill disagreed.
”In Genesis 14, God blessed Abraham after he used lethal force to rescue his nephew, Lot,” he wrote. “The principle of justifiable homicide has been, and will remain, in effect throughout human history.”
He added that “there is no question that my actions caused many abortion providers to consider quitting their practice.”
The 1994 shooting came 14 months after another antiabortion activist, Michael Griffin, killed another Pensacola abortion doctor, David Gunn. Hill said in the letter to The Herald that, at the time of the Griffin case, he was disappointed with the anemic response from pro-life activists, who denounced Griffin’s use of violence. So he is not surprised now that ”only a relatively small number of people” have supported his actions.
But, he added: ‘I believe that as time goes on and more people recognize the duty to use the individual and corporate means necessary to defend the unborn, that the opposition to abortion will become more intense. To misquote John Paul Jones, `We have not yet begun to fight.’ ”
Hill said he still corresponds with his wife and children, who have since moved from Pensacola.
Has he anything to say to the families of Britton or Barrett, the people he killed?
”No,” Hill wrote.
Britton’s stepdaughter, Catherine Britton Fairbanks, is among those asking Bush for clemency for Hill.
”Violence begets violence,” Fairbanks told The Pensacola News Journal in a story Wednesday. “There is no murder of any kind that justifies killing the murderer. It’s not going to bring the person back.
”If they kill Paul Hill, it’s going to provoke all kinds of things,” Fairbanks said. “I think that network of people — that alliance — is really strong still.”
Hill told The Herald he is ready to die.
”Yes, the Lord is giving me a generous measure of peace and joy as I anticipate my departure,” he wrote. “My confidence is not in anything that I have done, but in the righteous life and the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross.”
Herald staff writers Marc Caputo and Lesley Clark contributed to this report.