Protester Is Arrested in Pensacola's 2nd Clinic Killing
Saturday July 30, 1994
By RONALD SMOTHERS
PENSACOLA Fla. July 29 ‑ For the second time in 17 months, an abortion doctor was shot to death outside a women's Clinic in this Florida Panhandle city today.
Only moments after the shooting, in which a volunteer security escort for the doctor was also killed, the police arrested Paul J. Hill, a well-known anti‑abortion protester here, and charged him with two counts of murder.
Mr. Hill, a 40‑year‑old former minister of two conservative Presbyterian denominations who has long advocated violence against abortion doctors, was identified by witnesses as the gunman and was seized as he tried to flee the parking lot of the clinic, the Pensacola Ladies Center, the police said.
Those killed were Dr. John Bayard Britton, 69, of Fernandina Beach, Fla., across the state near Jacksonville, and James H. Barrett, 74, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who had volunteered to be one of the center's escorts in response to the wave of anti‑abortion demonstrations and violent protests that have made Pensacola a crucible of the abortion fight.
Mr. Barrett's wife, June, a 68‑year‑old retired nurse who was also serving as an escort, was wounded by the gunman and was reported later today to be in good condition at Baptist Hospital.
The shooting occurred at 7:27, this morning. The Barretts had picked up Dr. Britton at the local airport and taken him to the clinic for his regular weekly appointments there. All three of them were sitting in the Barretts' pickup truck in the parking lot when the gunman approached and began firing with a 12‑gauge shotgun. Dr. Britton and Mr. Barrett were both shot in the head; Mrs. Barrett was hit in the arm.
The police said later that they had recovered the gun.
Dr. Britton was one of the few physicians who had been willing to perform abortions in Pensacola since Dr. David Gunn was shot to death by an anti‑abortion crusader outside the city's only other abortion clinic in March 1993. When Dr. Britton's body was recovered this morning, it was found to be clad in a bulletproof vest, protection that did him no good when the gunman opened fire at his head.
In Washington, President Clinton condemned "the senseless shootings" and said: "I am strongly committed to ending this form of domestic terrorism that threatens the fabric of our country. I encourage a quick and thorough investigation into this tragic incident as the local officials work closely with the resources of the Federal law‑enforcement community."
The United States Attorney General, Janet Reno, said the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms would help the local authorities with their investigation.
Only two months ago, Mr. Clinton signed into law a measure that makes it a Federal crime to block access to an abortion clinic or to use force or threats against a clinic's patients or employees. That new law carries a life sentence for anyone who uses violence that results in the death of an abortion provider or patient. Attorney General Reno said the law might be applied to the shooting today, depending on "what is best for the case."
'No Room for Violence'
A wide range of anti‑abortion organizations denounced the shooting.
"The pro‑life movement has no room for violence or vigilantism," said the Rev. Pat Mahoney, a national leader of the militant anti‑abortion group Operation Rescue. "There are no qualifiers."
Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, chairman of the Committee for Pro‑Life Activities of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the shooting "makes a mockery of everything we stand for."
At least one abortion rights official placed blame on the broad leadership of the anti‑abortion movement. "We're stunned and horrified," said James Wagoner, vice president of the National Abortion Rights Action League. "We believe a significant portion of the blame for this murderous act rests with the leadership of the anti‑choice movement, which has been unwilling or unable to control the violent extremists within their midst."
'Do Unto Others'
Mr. Hill, the suspect, who is director of an anti‑abortion group called Defensive Action, has become well known for his advocacy of violence against abortion providers.
Much of that recognition has resulted from his appearance on nationally televised programs including "Nightline," "Donahue' and "Sonya Live." The Associated Press today quoted him as saying in one of a number of interviews he has given this year: "The Christian principle is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If an abortionist is about to violently take an innocent person's life, you, are entirely morally justified in trying to prevent him from taking that life."
And after an abortion doctor was wounded by a gun‑wielding anti‑abortion advocate in Wichita, Kan, last year, Mr. Hill said the Sixth Commandment requires "that we try and prevent killing, and requires that we use force if necessary to do that."
The police said that as Mr. Hill was being taken into custody today, he told them: "I know one thing. No innocent babies are going to be killed in that clinic today."
Mr. Hill was taken to the Escambia County jail, where a judge is to hold a hearing in the case on Saturday morning.
Belly of the Beast
This region of the Gulf Coast stretching from Tallahassee, Fla., west to Mobile, Ala., is regarded as the "belly of the beast" by many abortion rights groups because of the intense anti‑abortion sentiment that is so deeply rooted here.
It was in Pensacola in March 1993 that an anti‑abortion protester, Michael Griffin, who had frequently demonstrated peacefully in front of the only other abortion clinic in the city, shot and killed Dr. Gunn. Mr. Griffin is now serving a sentence of life imprisonment.
And it was in Mobile last year that a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. David Trosch, was suspended by the church after trying to place an advertisement in newspapers calling the killing of abortion doctors "justifiable homicide."
Pensacola has been the site as well of burglaries and fire bombings of abortion clinics, incidents that all contributed to the enactment of the new Federal law aimed at curbing anti‑abortion activity outside the centers.
Mr. Hill, who has a wife, a son and two daughters, had been a minister with two conservative Presbyterian denominations, serving as a pastor in South Carolina and Florida after his ordination in 1984. Both denominations ‑ the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church ‑ said today that they condemned violence in the fight against abortion.
Mr. Hill left the ministry in recent years and had been working in Pensacola as a car detailer. But he remained active in one congregation, Trinity Presbyterian Church in Valparaiso, Fla.; until last year, when leaders who disagreed with his advocacy of violence asked him to leave.
"We're all shocked but not surprised," said the Rev. Michael Schneider, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church. "He had begun to head in that direction. Whenever he talked about abortion, he was very intense. But otherwise he was very gentle."
Roy McMillan, an anti‑abortion advocate in Jackson, Miss., who was a friend of Mr. Hill from his days as a student at Bellhaven College in Jackson and the Reformed Theological Seminary there, said he was clearly one of those people who had concluded that the crusade against abortion was an effort ‑ much like just wars or self‑defense ‑in which violence and even killing were justified.
As recently as last year, even anti‑abortion colleagues grew fearful of his advocacy. Leaders of Operation Rescue publicly denounced him for refusing to sign a vow against violence. In a Pensacola newspaper interview, the Rev. Jim Pinto, an Alabama official of Operation Rescue, said of Mr. Hill: "You can only hold a gun or a cross, and we've chosen to take up a cross. He is advocating taking up a gun."
Dr. Britton’s regular Friday visits to the Pensacola Ladies Center, and the arrival of anti‑abortion protesters who turned out to meet him, had become a weekly routine. Clinic volunteers like Mr. Barrett would go to inquiry the airport to pick up the doctor for the 10‑minute drive to the clinic, and an off‑duty police officer, hired to provide security would arrive by 7:30 A.M. This morning the Officer arrived at 7:32, about five minutes after the shootings.
Mr. Hill had regularly been among the protesters who turned out for Dr. Britton's visits. "We would not normally expect trouble from Mr. Hill”, said Sgt. Jerry Potts of the Pensacola police. He has been there week after week for the last year or so, and there has been no problem.”