Anti-abortion extremist says he expects 'a great reward in heaven' for killing abortion doctor
STARKE, Fla. -- Paul Hill, a former minister who gunned down an abortion doctor, said he feels no remorse and suggested the state will be making him a martyr when he becomes the first person executed in the United States for anti-abortion violence.
Barring an unlikely last-minute stay, the 49-year-old former Presbyterian minister will be put to death by lethal injection Wednesday evening for the 1994 murders in Pensacola of Dr. John Britton and his escort, retired Air Force Lt. Col. James Herman Barrett.
Barrett's wife, June, was wounded in the shootings outside the Ladies Center in Pensacola.
Hill has not appealed.
"The sooner I am executed ... the sooner I am going to heaven," Hill said in a jailhouse interview. "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.
Security was boosted outside the prison Wednesday, with extra sheriff's deputies, guard dogs and a sheriff's helicopter to prevent any protests from getting out of control, said Bradford County Sheriff Bob Milner.
"We don't want an incident of national proportion," Milner said.
Abortion-rights groups worry that 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 the threatening letters, said Tuesday the threats would not keep him from carrying out the law.
"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," he said. "I totally respect them. And they should respect what the rule of law is here in our state."
Britton's stepdaughter has also spoken out against the death penalty, calling it "barbaric and inhuman," and said Wednesday that while she doesn't support Hill, she opposes his execution.
"I've had these feelings for a long time, before he (Britton) was murdered, I've always been a proponent of nonviolence," Catherine Britton Fairbanks said Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show. "But then when he was murdered that brought it to the forefront.
"I spent a lot of time researching the elements of Paul Hill and his group, but since then I've worked against the death penalty, opposing it whenever I get a chance to speak out against it."
Britton Fairbanks is estranged from the rest of the Britton family, most of whom support Hill's execution.
"He is not a martyr, but a criminal," said Britton's daughter, Patsy Britton Coleman, 43. "Killing innocent people to scare other people into behaving the way he believes is morally correct is something our society needs to fight against."
Coleman, of Roseville, N.C., told The News & Observer of Raleigh her father, a family practitioner, felt strongly about giving women the option of choosing an abortion.
Some death penalty opponents have 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, a father of three, has supporters who have maintained a Web site in his honor, with snapshots and ballads, but most major anti-abortion groups have repudiated him.
Some of his backers liken him to John Brown, the abolitionist hanged for his crimes. One militant anti-abortion 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.
Associated Press Writer David Royse in Starke contributed to this report.