Cathy Ramey

Associate Editor

JUSTICE DESPISED: The Florida trial of Paul Hill

by Cathy Ramey

All of the facts relating to the deed of one Paul Jennings Hill are generally known. On July 27, after over eighteen months of prayer, picketing, and pleading outside of the Pensacola Ladies Center abortion facility, Hill visited his local gun shop.
Bruce Maddin may not have remembered Paul Hill personally, but he remembers the 12 gauge Mosberg pump-action shotgun he sold him. With hunting season little more than two months away, the sale of a weapon intended for taking down big game was not unexpected. Almost incidentally the gun was designated by the manufacturer with a name of its own. Paul Hill filled out the required ATF form-4473 and left Mike's Gun Shop with The Defender in hand.
Moving on to the Milton Gun Shop, Hill bought ammunition, 12 gauge 2 3/4" buckshot shells, each projectile estimated to hold approximately 12-20 explosive pellets. On the same day, a Wednesday, he signed in at a shooting range and practiced hitting a mark. On Thursday he was back. And on Friday, July 29, 1994, according to several eye-witnesses, Paul Hill turned the gun on its intended target.


It was rumored that, despite the fact that it was an abortionist beneath the sod, the grass was grown in full over David Gunn's grave before a replacement was found nearly five months after he was buried. John Britton, a Fernandina, Florida resident, was known as the unsavory abortionist who stepped into Gunn's boots after he was slain in March of 1993.
Britton was featured in a GQ magazine article after his installment as abortionist extraordinaire willing to take up where another had been gunned down and boasted about his commitment to the practice of pulling babies apart through the devise of a suction machine. He had been caught doing abortions before its legalization in 1973, was dismissed and barred from seeing patients at one hospital and then another, and repeatedly disciplined for the illegal abuse of prescription drugs.
In short, even after over twenty years of Supreme Court protected abortion, John Britton was nowhere near being anything like a professional physician. He was, as one commentator put it, "the off-scouring" of the medical community.
His passion for unburdening women of their "unwanted" children, he intimated, ran so deep that it would be accomplished over the dead body of any demonstrator who tried to stop him. He posed for the camera in a home-made bullet-proof vest.

Barrett & Barrett

After a restless life of romancing with first one man and then another, June Barrett, a retired nurse, married the retired Air Force Lt. Col. James Barrett. Her daughter approved of the change in her mother's life and told her, "You finally got one I can love."
In June of 1992 the Barretts moved to Pensacola and settled in to change the small retirement town, if not the world, together.
James and June Barrett were retired 74 and 68 years of age respectively and unleashed to address what June refers to as their mutual "social concerns." Both husband and wife were members of the Unitarian Universalist Church, organizers of a Parents of Lesbians and Gays group, interested in educating the public about AIDS, and involved in other endeavors like "counseling."
On the last Friday of each month the Barretts were engaged as volunteers in assuring that abortions were committed without a hitch at the Ladies Center. As such, they arrived at Pensacola's lone small airport at 7:00 a.m. After picking up John Britton, they would proceed to the abortion facility and deliver their human cargo sometime before 7:30.
It was at seven thirty a.m. precisely that the first baby was scheduled to die.
In the same GQ article that had featured John Britton, James Barrett had been characterized as more than a mere escort. He kept a gun handy and was ready to use it.

The deed

According to Mark Holmes, he was called to the Ladies Center at 6:45 a.m. on the morning of July 29. He was on duty as a Pensacola police officer that day though on others, still wearing his official police uniform, he worked as a paid security guard for the facility. Sworn to "protect and serve," Holmes helped to assure that abortions were committed without any undue influence by protesters.
On this particular Friday, he testified that he found Paul Hill planting white crosses in the grass public property just outside the Ladies Center facility. Hill was ordered to remove the small display, and according to Holmes, "he obeyed" without the usual admonition to the officer that he was an accomplice to the murder of baby boys and girls.
Holmes left the area but would be called back before having time to do more than have a cup of coffee and cruise the broad strip of roadway fronting the abortuary.
At approximately 7:20 a.m. the Nissan pick-up used by the Barretts for transporting Britton pulled into the driveway of the facility. James Barrett veered to the left in order to bring the vehicle's passenger side up alongside the front door. From there, it was routine for Britton to swiftly enter the building that resembles an older and run down home. He would check in with the staff and begin his "days work."
As usual, June Barrett, riding in the extra cab on a jump seat facing the driver, noted that Paul Hill was present. But unlike other Fridays he was without one of his out-sized protest signs. Instead, June Barrett had the impression that Hill was holding a stick.
"I saw him holding something," she testified before a packed courtroom. "I didn't know what it was, but he looked like he was pretending to shoot us."
Only a fraction of a second later she yelled to her companions in the truck, "My God, he is shooting us!" At the same time, three shots were heard, one immediately following another.
Her husband sought to exit the vehicle and was killed instantly.
In the space of about 30 seconds, Hill reloaded and pumped out four more shots, spraying the area around the truck with more than 90 shotgun pellets; some piercing the truck, some shattering the window, and several lodging in the body of and killing abortionist John Britton who was unsuccessfully looking for James Barrett's gun.


The case against Paul Hill, with eight eye-witnesses, would be, according to Prosecutor James Murray, "airtight." Officer Mark Holmes and others who responded to the scene watched as Paul Hill walked away after discarding the shotgun. His hands were held up in the air, palms open, fingers splayed, in an apparent effort to assure others that the threat was over. The Defender had done its work.
Pressed down to the ground and cuffed by police, Hill made what was considered to be his own confession and declaration of the event, "No babies will be killed at this clinic today."
Paul Hill was officially in custody and on his way through the American Justice System, a system that recognizes a right to kill on some occasions.

Justifiable homicide

All through proceedings that followed his arrest Paul Hill remained silent for the media but firm in his presentation before the judge. The defense he wanted the only possible reason that a rational man would fire into an occupied vehicle in front of witnesses in the bright light of a hot July morning was one that is recognized in all 50 of the United States. Paul Hill believed no other remedy was available; that it was necessary to render harm to an abortionist in order to save the lives of innocent human beings about to be killed that very day.
According to testimony, abortionist Britton's left arm was nearly severed by the blast of Hill's shotgun. Justification for rendering a man and his arm inoperative would only make sense when viewed alongside information about the thousands of smaller arm, legs, heads, torsos, and lives that Britton had severed.
Prosecutor Murray drew out the last 30 seconds of John Barrett's life, painting a picture of a man trapped in an enclosed area, whose end was imminent; a man who was helpless to defend himself and change the course of events.
Hill asked that the court give him opportunity to share with the jury about the final moments in the lives of yet-to-be-birthed children. His defense, if allowed would talk about the final 30 seconds of those aborted, seen on ultrasound, drawing back into the womb in a futile attempt to avoid a powerful, tearing suction tube or the small curved end of a deadly sharp curette.
The court said "No" and then repeated herself again and again through the representation of Circuit Court Judge Frank Bell.
Hill could offer another defense; insanity, black rage, too much sugar the Twinkie defense, Urban-Survival syndrome, parental abuse, etc., but he could not argue a defense that implied an effort to save real children. To offer such a defense would threaten nearly twenty-two years of life under Roe v. Wade.
Contrary to the perception held by most Americans, that a man is entitled to explain why he has done a deed, Paul Hill was told he could not discuss abortion and her victims before a jury of his peers.
With no option to speak "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" before the court, Paul Hill rejected other defenses. Britton was not killed in order to uphold an international treaty against genocide. His accomplice, James Barrett did not die because Hill was the receptacle of multiple personalities, etc., etc. Britton and Barrett died only because there was no other way that Hill believed he could prevent the deaths of a number of completely innocent people.

Defending himself

Another issue that tortured the American system of jurisprudence was that Paul Hill was unwilling to tolerate the second-rate representation available to him through the public defender's office. In the entire office there was not one lawyer who would violate his symbiotic relationship with the Bench to argue convincingly for the only defense Hill had. In the absence of such counsel, Hill could only opt to be his own attorney.
As the date for trial was advancing upon him, Paul Hill took every opportunity to tell the court that he was in need of competent counsel. Such counsel, he contended, was available to him in the persons of two Kentucky lawyers who stood ready to champion a defense if allowed to do so by the court. Vincent Heuser and Michael Hirsh had traveled to Pensacola in the hope that a last minute change of heart might cause Judge Bell to relent and allow Hill legal representation of his own choosing.
Hirsh's interest in the trial was especially compelling. In 1992, even before the first shooting of an abortionist, he began final work on a Law thesis aimed at providing a defense for just such a user-of-force like Paul Hill. His theoretical motion revolved around arguing for a defense of justifiable homicide for a fictional client who had protected unborn children in a manner that ended the life of an abortionist. The particular state in which the case was argued, and therefore, the laws that were cited to apply, was the state of Florida.
Judge Bell was aware of Hirsh's research, but denied the petition to allow Heuser and Hirsh to enter as counsel of record. In his estimation, it was necessary to assure that Paul Hill had representation familiar with laws in the state of Florida, he said, choosing to ignore Hirsh's exploration into the very issue at bar and Hill's preference.

The Jury

For Hill and others who watched the trial of Michael Griffin (charged with killing the first abortionist, David Gunn) the selection of jurors would prove to be unexceptional. But for curious American spectators, the process was an enigma.
A "jury of his peers," it might be assumed in Paul Hill's case, would include others like him; church-goers, believers in biblical truths. Instead the questions posed to the prospective pool were aimed at eliminating any with religious convictions.
"Do you attend church regularly?" they were asked, and "Are you involved in church activities other than church services?"
Jurors were quizzed about Sunday School and proclamations from the clergy. Without exception, those chosen by the prosecution were in agreement. They could disregard any concerns they felt over abortion and any moral leading that might have come their way via a pastor or his pulpit.
In an appeal every bit as sincere as apologies given by those of his trade who were tried at Nuremberg for enforcing and upholding immoral laws, Murray advised them, "This is what goes to the heart of our society, that we agree that we will obey the laws of the land."
He hammered home his point by asking the jurors to nod if they could agree "that failure to follow the law (of Roe v. Wade)...that a miscarriage of justice would occur?" All heads moved up and down.
Paul Hill, unable to proceed with a defense of his choosing; denied legal counsel of his choice; and shackled with a jury pledged to follow the law of Roe, right or wrong, sat silent throughout the three hours it took to seat six men, six women, and two alternates who would judge his case.
Paul Hill sat silent too while the now-seated jury was instructed by the prosecutor during his opening argument that they "must follow the law" without reservation, and later when Judge Bell instructed them that "even if you don't like the laws that must be applied, you must follow them."
The jury last bastion between a corrupt law or government and a vulnerable defendant watched through opening arguments, 37 state witnesses, and Murray's closing statement, apparently without a clue, never comprehending that they held it in their power to reverse the law and find Paul Hill blameless of a crime because of his attempt to save other innocent lives.
After only three days of trial, on Wednesday afternoon, the jury returned with a verdict. Paul Jennings Hill was found by them to be guilty of two counts of killing in the first degree, one count of attempted killing, and one count of firing into an occupied vehicle. The vote was 12-0, with every juror upholding their pledge to affirm the law without reservation.

Penalty recommendation phase

Thursday, November 3, all parties to the trial were once more present in the courtroom of Judge Frank Bell. Again, before the jury was brought in to take their seats, Paul Hill reiterated his request for a defense and counsel of his choosing.

Again the judge said "No."

Having found the defendant guilty in only 45 minutes of deliberation the day before, jurors were now to give a judgment as to sentencing. The only options available in the state of Florida are "life in prison without possibility of parole" and death in the electric chair.
One by one the jurors hear short pronouncements from Judge Bell, Prosecutor Murray, and members of the Barrett family.
Abortionist Britton was not represented with either family or friends to attest to his character and the loss that he is to the community, but Barrett was extolled as a man whose values were being instilled into his grandchildren. "I'm not sure I can be what he was," his son Bruce told the court.
Mrs. June Barrett lamented that she will never be able to attend activities at the Retired Officers Association. "I can't come back without my dancing partner," she tells the audience.
In a recess apart from the jury, and before closing statements regarding sentencing, Murray offers a final complaint to the court. It is his concern that the jury will be swayed unduly by Paul Hill's appearance.
Throughout the long hours in the courtroom Hill has been consistently patient, passive, polite. Murray is fearful that the jury might read into the defendant's pristine behavior that there were unspoken mitigating circumstances and be unable to bring back the hoped for death penalty. But Judge Bell declines any unusual instruction for the jury on this issue.
Only moments later the jury is returned for closing statements in the penalty phase of Paul Hill's prosecution, and Murray reiterates the obligation that he has met in proving that the deed was done by the accused. He outlines the elements which must be necessarily present in order to bring back a recommendation for the death penalty.
Hill's actions, he contends despite the fact that he has effectively prevented Hill from offering just such a defense, had "no pretense of moral justification."
And then Murray, a member of the Presbyterian Church like Paul Hill, exhorts those sitting in judgment to hand his brother-believer over to the sentence of death.

Hill speaks at last

In a move that surprised the court, after attending his trial as a silent witness, Paul Hill rose to address the jury.
"You have a responsibility to protect your neighbor's life and to use force if necessary to do so" he matter-of-factly informed them. "In an effort to suppress this truth, you may mix my blood with the blood of the unborn and those who have fought to defend the oppressed. However, truth and righteousness will prevail."
"May God help you to protect the unborn as you would want to be protected."
Hill took his seat and watched as jurors walked in uncomfortable silence into the jury room.

"Unless a kernel of wheat..."

Throughout the hours of argument, only one concern delayed the proceedings in the jury room. "If Paul Hill was sentenced to 'life in prison,'" the jurors wondered, "would that mean he would be eligible for parole?"
The judge and the American justice system took one last opportunity in the trial setting to assure the jury would opt for the death penalty.
Understanding that the jury was wanting to assure themselves that this shooter of abortion providers, this protector of unborn children would never be able to walk free, the judge refused to explain Florida law any further.
The message was sent in to the jury that they would need to come to a decision based upon the information at hand. They were never instructed that "life" meant never being eligible for parole. Presumably then, to assure that the abortion-minded would be forever free of Paul Hill, the jury returned after four hours with a 12-0 proposal that Paul J. Hill should die.
On November 30, at 1:00 p.m. central time it is expected that Judge Frank Bell will pronounce sentence upon Hill, giving great weight to the recommendation of the jury.