- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2003

Paul Hill, the former minister who calls himself an antiabortion “martyr,” is resisting unorthodox legal efforts to block his execution Wednesday for murdering a doctor and bodyguard outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic in 1994.

An unusual last-ditch appeal by Atlanta lawyer Michael Hirsh and Roger Frechette of New Haven, Conn., argues that a state judge ordered that Hill not be executed for the 1994 shootings until he completes a double life sentence in federal prison under a law that shields abortion clinics.

His lawyers point out that their client would be dead of natural causes once his sentence is completed.

Asked if he considered his request an act of desperation, Mr. Hirsh replied, “No. Urgency. The guy is going to be executed on Wednesday. This is the last shot.”

State courts haven’t agreed with that theory, and on Friday Mr. Hirsh carried the battle into federal court after their papers were twice stricken by the Florida Supreme Court because the lawyers no longer represent Hill, who would be the first person executed for abortion-clinic violence.

“I need a client,” Mr. Hirsh said of his efforts to block Hill’s execution for the July 1994 shotgun killings of Dr. John Bayard Britton, 69, and retired Air Force Col. James Herman Barrett, 74, an unarmed escort driving and protecting Dr. Britton.

Hill, 49, defended himself at trial when the trial judge refused to permit Mr. Hirsh to do so because he was not a Florida lawyer. Mr. Hirsh and Mr. Frechette argued for Hill by appointment during his automatic Florida Supreme Court appeal in 1996. For years he has stymied every legal filing by claiming he no longer has a lawyer and doesn’t want one.

Hill’s wife, Karen, and Mr. Hirsh have told The Washington Times that the former Presbyterian pastor would prefer not to die but is convinced his death would serve to publicize his views.

“Paul believes his execution would agitate the abortion war in our country and help bring legalized abortion to an end more quickly,” Mrs. Hill wrote to The Times.

“He is of the opinion that his execution will bring about a number of things that he would like to see happen,” Mr. Hirsh said Friday of Hill’s calls to foment anti-abortion violence, as the attorney sought a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court at Tallahassee while simultaneously asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the Florida justices.

The unusual plea that he be allowed to die before he is executed would seem to pose a catch-22 for authorities. It is based on Circuit Judge Frank Bell’s trial decision at a prosecutor’s request to make the state sentences consecutive to a double life term Hill received one week earlier in federal court.

The sentencing transcript is clear. As Judge Bell delivered a 13-year prison sentence on top of the death penalty, prosecutor James Murray asked that the sentences be consecutive. Mr. Murray was not more specific, and Judge Bell clearly said the order covered the death sentences as well.

After Hill declined to comment on the motion, Judge Bell said, “OK, let’s take and impose all four of these sentences running consecutive to the federal sentence that was imposed … last week. They will run consecutive.”

Because those orders never were modified, Mr. Hirsh and Mr. Frechette say they bar Gov. Jeb Bush from signing a death warrant.

“It is clearly illegal for the state of Florida to carry out the death sentence against Mr. Hill,” Mr. Frechette told The Times.

In 1995 federal defender Roderick Vereen asked a U.S. District judge in Pensacola to order the federal Bureau of Prisons to reclaim Hill from Florida’s death row to serve that double life sentence. Federal officials refused, saying state and federal authorities may decide whose prisons should house prisoners with multiple sentences.

That request was withdrawn after Hill said it was unauthorized.

“That is different and really has no effect on what we are doing. Vereen was trying to make the federal government take custody of Paul Hill. What we’re saying is that regardless of who is giving him bread and water, the executive [Gov. Bush] is bound to obey,” Mr. Hirsh said yesterday.

Gubernatorial Press Secretary Alia Faraj said Friday Mr. Bush is determined not to halt the execution of “a murderer who executed two innocent people.”

Letters containing bullets reportedly were received by Judge Bell, prison officials and Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist.

Judge Bell cited the fact that abortion is legal when he refused in December 1994 to allow Hill to argue to the jury that the killing was justified by Florida’s “necessity defense” to save lives about to be aborted in the clinic.

“No innocent babies are going to be killed in that clinic today,” Hill blurted moments after killing the two men and wounding Col. Barrett’s wife, June, who was with them in a pickup truck. Mrs. Barrett, 77, now lives in Silver Spring.

“I had to kill him [Dr. Britton],” Hill said in a 1999 prison interview with Knight Ridder News Service. He told a reporter then he would not rule out use of chemical or biological weapons for antiabortion activism and said “it may be just” to assassinate U.S. Supreme Court justices who defend the Roe v. Wade decision that barred states from restricting abortions.

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