Man convicted on federal charges of killing two at Florida abortion clinic

October 06, 1994|By New York Times News Service

PENSACOLA, Fla. -- Paul J. Hill, the former Presbyterian minister and abortion protester, has been convicted on federal charges of killing two people and wounding a third in an attempt to thwart legal abortions at a clinic here.

Yesterday's verdict, by a jury of six men and six women, came in the first case brought to trial under a four-month-old federal law enacted to combat increasing violence against clinics and abortion providers around the country.

The jury deliberated a little more than two hours after Hill, representing himself, had mounted virtually no defense. He called no witnesses on his behalf and chose not to cross-examine any of the prosecution's 24 witnesses.

As Judge Roger Vinson of Federal District Court polled each juror, Hill stood stiff and expressionless between the court-appointed lawyers he had dismissed but who had been asked to stay on and advise him.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney David L. McGee, called seven witnesses to the stand.

Hill was convicted on three counts of interfering with and injuring those involved in the delivery of reproductive services and one count of using a firearm in the commission of a crime. Under the new federal law -- the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law -- he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison when he is sentenced by Judge Vinson on Dec. 9.

Hill still faces state murder charges. That trial, in which he could get the death penalty if convicted, is scheduled to start Jan. 30.

The federal jury found that Hill was guilty of violating the law by fatally shooting Dr. John B. Britton, 69, the doctor at the Pensacola Ladies Center, and James H. Barrett, 74, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who was a volunteer escort and bodyguard at the clinic. They also found him guilty on a third count, which stemmed from wounding Mr. Barrett's wife, June Barrett, 68, a retired Public Health Service nurse. The Barretts lived in Maryland before retiring to Florida.

According to witnesses, the three had arrived at the clinic in a pickup truck on July 29 when Hill, who had been demonstrating outside the building, approached them with a shotgun. In vivid testimony yesterday, Mrs. Barrett recounted ducking to the floor of the truck when Hill opened fire.

After the verdict, supporters of the new law said that this first test of it was a clear message that anti-abortion violence will be taken seriously.

"It is a strong message to those who would be deterred by normal things, but many like Paul Hill want to be martyred and those people will not be deterred by this," said Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women.

But Donna Bray, founder of the Defenders of the Defenders of Life, a Maryland-based group whose members stood vigil throughout the trial in support of Hill, said, "Paul Hill laid down his life to defend innocent unborn children, and I thank him."

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