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Florida Killer Executed

Aired September 3, 2003 - 20:01   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Two hours ago, with protesters outside, former Presbyterian minister Paul Hill was executed by lethal injection in Florida. Hill was convicted of killing a doctor who performed abortions and a bodyguard back in 1994.
More now on the Hill execution. We want to take you live to Starke, Florida, where that execution took place.

I'm joined now by Brian Cabell. He was one of the few people to actually witness the execution.

Good evening, Brian.


It was a unique experience, to say the least, the first time I've done that -- frankly, the last time, I hope. It's not something you enjoy. But there was a curiosity about it. There were about 30 of us inside watching. The curtain opened up after we sat down. And there was Paul Hill lying on a gurney, face up, strapped in. And he issued a brief statement, about 45 seconds, shortly before he died.

He said: "If you believe abortion is a lethal force, you should oppose the force. Do what you have to do to stop it. May God help you to protect the unborn, as you would want to be protected." Again, that was a portion of what he said. He also thanked his family as well.

Earlier this morning, he apparently woke up 4:45 this morning, read the Bible. He met with his family. Reportedly, he was in a very good mood. He spoke to the guards in a very genial meal. He had his final meal with his family, ate all of his meal, met with his spiritual adviser. And then, at 6:00 this evening, he entered the room; 6:08, Paula, he was declared dead.

ZAHN: And I know you say this is something you hopefully will not have to witness again. But describe to us, to your degree of comfort, what you did witness.

CABELL: Well, I'll tell you, one of the most frightening aspects of it was when we first entered to room, when they ushered us into the room, about, oh, 10 minutes before the execution was carried out. And I got a sense of claustrophobia.

Everybody was sitting there in a row facing straight ahead, looking at this window with curtains over it. And you're just sitting there waiting. And I'm looking around. And I think a few other people felt a little bit queasy, because you know what you're waiting for. Then the curtain opens very theatrically. And there he is lying on this gurney no more than 15 feet away from you. And he speaks into a speaker.

He doesn't look at you. He simply spoke into a microphone on the ceiling for, as I say, about 45 seconds in a very firm voice. And then that's when the chemicals were infused into his body. And you saw him inhale a couple of times. You saw him wet his lips. He gulped a couple of times, closed his eyes. And then there was nothing for about five minutes. Then one doctor came in, checked him with a stethoscope. He left. A second doctor came in with a stethoscope.

As he left, he nodded to the warden. And that was it.

ZAHN: Brian Cabell, thank you very much. I know that's tough for anybody who was there to talk about it.

I'm joined now by two guests who represent an interesting split of opinion on Hill's execution. Catherine Britton Fairbanks is the stepdaughter of one of Hill's victims, Dr. John Britton. She is opposed to the death penalty and says Hill should not have been executed, even though she did not support Hill or his views. I'm also joined by the Reverend Rylan Millett of Crossroads Baptist Church in Maitland, Florida. Most of Millett's congregation hold anti-abortion views, as he does.

But he supported the death penalty for Hill.

Welcome to both of you. And we really want to learn a little bit more about both of your positions.

Catherine, help our audience understand why you were not in favor of Paul Hill dying today, when in fact he murdered your stepfather.

CATHERINE BRITTON FAIRBANKS, STEPDAUGHTER OF VICTIM: I just feel that the death penalty is totally unreasonable and inhumane, although, after hearing Paul Hill tonight having no remorse, I can understand how people would feel that he needed to be executed.

I mean, I am totally appalled by what I heard and the images that I've been given. It's really kind of shaken me up. And I am tired of being abused by clergy. It's twice in my family, first my stepfather by an ex-minister. And then I experienced clergy misconduct within the Episcopal Church. And I've dealt with that. So I've had a lot on my plate.

ZAHN: So, even though you are outraged that he suppressed no remorse today, Catherine, how is it that you think he should have paid for this crime that he committed?

FAIRBANKS: I think that he should have stayed in prison with no parole.

ZAHN: Reverend Millett, you oppose abortion, but you believe that Paul Hill deserved to be executed. Why? REV. RYLAN MILLETT, CROSSROADS BAPTIST CHURCH: Because that's a biblical principle of abortion. The Bible says, if you shed man's blood, by man shall your blood be shed.

I will go on record as standing against abortion. I'm definitely am against that. But what Mr. Hill did by taking the law into his own hands, even though he was with a right cause, taking the law into his own hands, taking a gun and killing the doctor and his aide that was with him that day in cold-blooded murder, there's no -- you can't justify that. And so, to me, he has to pay for it with his own life. And he did so tonight.

ZAHN: Do you have any empathy for the position Catherine has? Even though it was her stepfather who was murdered, she feels very strongly that he should not have been executed.

MILLETT: I can't speak for her. I just know that the Bible does clearly state and support capital punishment.

And because Mr. Hill took the law into his own hand and he cold- bloodedly killed this doctor and his bodyguard, or his aide there, then, according to the law of the land and God's law, he should pay for it with his own life. And as she expressed, that there was no remorse, nothing like that at all. Certainly, our heart goes out to the family, our condolences to his wife and children that he leaves behind.

And nobody really wins in this thing. To me, it's a deterrent to anybody else that would try to do something like this, to take it to the next level. And violent protests against abortion is not the answer. That's not the way you address this issue.

ZAHN: Reverend Millett just led me to my next question for you, Catherine. And that is the fear a lot of people have that Paul Hill has become such a martyr that in fact might encourage more people to commit this kind of crime. Do you feel that he would have been made more an example of if he in fact had not been allowed to die?

FAIRBANKS: I think, by the press giving him all this attention and also being given the interview on television, he has gotten what he wanted.

And as far as your other guest's comments about the Bible, I really don't see that that justifies anything about killing. Clearly, the Bible says do no harm, do not kill. Jesus was an example of nonviolence. So, I have a hard time understanding any of that.

ZAHN: Catherine Britton Fairbanks, Reverend Millett, we need to leave it there this evening.


ZAHN: I know, Catherine, you said you were very shaken by what happened today. And we thank your joining us, as well as the reverend. Appreciate it.

MILLETT: Thank you.


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