Paul Hill, a former minister who said he murdered an abortion doctor and his bodyguard to save the lives of unborn babies, was executed today by injection. He was the first person put to death in the United States for antiabortion violence.
Hill, 49, was condemned for the July 29, 1994, shooting deaths of John Bayard Britton and his bodyguard, retired Air Force Lt. Col. James Herman Barrett, and wounding Barrett's wife, June, outside the Ladies Center in Pensacola.
Hill was pronounced dead at 6:08 p.m., Gov. Jeb Bush's office said.
Death penalty opponents and others had urged Bush to halt the execution, some of them warning that Hill's death would make him a martyr and unleash more violence against abortion clinics. The governor said he would not be "bullied" into stopping the execution, the third in Florida this year.
Florida abortion clinics and police were on heightened alert for reprisals.
"Paul Hill is a dangerous psychopath," said Marti McKenzie, spokeswoman for James S. Pendergraft, a physician who runs clinics in Orlando, Ocala, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale.
Outside Florida State Prison, extra law enforcement officers, explosives-sniffing dogs and undercover officers were in place to prevent protests from getting out of hand.
"We don't want an incident of national proportion," Bradford County Sheriff Bob Milner said.
Hill, a former Presbyterian minister, had final visits with his wife and son, his mother and father and two sisters. His two daughters visited him earlier in the week. Hill was served a final meal of steak, a baked potato and orange sherbet about 10 this morning.
His religious adviser, Donald Spitz, was outside Hill's death watch cell and stayed with him until just before his 6 p.m. execution.
After losing his automatic appeals, Hill did not fight his execution and insisted up to the day before his death that he would be forgiven by God for killing to save the unborn.
"I expect a great reward in heaven," he said in an interview Tuesday, during which he was cheerful, often smiling. "I am looking forward to glory."
Hill suggested others should take up his violent cause.
On Web sites that proclaim Hill as a martyr, fringe elements of the antiabortion movement that condone clinic violence have invited attacks on clinics. Members of the mainstream antiabortion movement have denounced the calls for violence.
Representatives of most abortion clinics in Florida declined to comment. McKenzie said security is always high, but clinic operators are particularly cautious now because of Hill's call for people to emulate his actions.
June Barrett, 77, who moved from Pensacola to a retirement community in Silver Spring, Md., said earlier this year that she was pleased to learn of the death warrant. "It's past time," she told the Pensacola News Journal.