Hill Executed for Shooting

(U-WIRE) STARKE, Fla. 09/04/2003 – A sea of yellow balloons floated slowly into the dark sky Wednesday evening as supporters of convicted murderer Paul Hill honored his life until the moment he took his last breaths and died. In his final statement, Hill thanked the Lord for his loving sisters, wife, daughters and parents. Hill also encouraged others to follow suit with his actions. “If you believe abortion is a lethal force, you should oppose that force and do what you have to do to stop it,” he said. “May God help you to protect the unborn as you would want to be protected.” Neither Hill’s family nor the victims’ family was among the 24 execution witnesses. Fenced in by yellow caution tape, Hill supporters came from across the nation to protest the execution of the man they christened a hero for the 1994 shooting of Pensacola doctor John Britton and his escort, retired Air Force officer James Barrett. “It’s touched everybody, so it draws everybody from all over,” said Jeff White, a California minister who flew to Florida for Hill’s execution. A former Presbyterian minister, Hill was the first person in the United States executed for anti-abortion violence. Ominous dark clouds and loud clashes of lightning bolted across the sky just minutes after Hill was pronounced dead at 6:08 p.m. — a sign from God, his supporters said. “There are a lot of people who view him as a prophet,” said Erick Eggleton, 26, who drove more than 12 hours from Knoxville, Tenn., to protest on the lawn of the Florida State Prison. “I feel that what he did was appropriate to get the job done.” Emotions ran high for Hill’s supporters who, between prayers, cried on their knees as rain drizzled down their faces and distorted their signs, many of which showed gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses. “It’s not about vengeance,” Eggleton said, adding that Hill prevented the deaths of innocent babies. “It’s a sad scenario, but that’s what it comes to sometimes.” In an adjacent fenced-in area, other death penalty opponents displayed their own signs and convictions. But members of Floridians Against the Death Penalty, who protest every execution in Starke, were careful to point out that they do not support Paul Hill but rather advocate life in prison without parole. “We’re against the violence that is being perpetuated,” said Andrew Mason, a FADP member from Orlando. “It’s a very obvious cycle of violence.” Abe Bonowitz, director of FADP, said they were not only protesting at the prison, but also in Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tampa and Pensacola, Fla. Bonowitz said Wednesday’s event gave Hill’s supporters a national platform from which to campaign. “The shortsightedness of our governor … gave Paul Hill and his followers opportunity to promote more violence,” he said. With more than two dozen supporters, members of FADP gripped their signs and protested silently, ignoring the chants of Hill supporters and calls from death penalty advocates nearby. Counting down the minutes to Hill’s death, conservative-Christian supporters of the death penalty stood in a lonesome corner, severely outnumbered. Calling Hill’s supporters hypocrites, Michael Morton, a California preacher denounced Hill’s murders. “He became the evil that he originally preached against,” he said. “It’s not about violence, it’s about peace and love.” Despite the strong convictions of about 100 protesters — about three times the normal turnout — Bradford County’s Sheriff’s Office officials said no one was arrested and everything ran smoothly.