A Florida state court jury, following the lead of a federal court decision in October, found anti-abortion terrorist Paul Hill guilty in the July 29 shooting deaths of Dr. Bayard Britton and NOW activist Jim Barrett. Hill, sentenced to life in prison by the federal court for violating the new Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) law, received the death penalty after Escambia Circuit Court Judge Frank Bell followed the recommendation of the jury that convicted Hill of first degree murder.
"The most effective way to protect society from the Paul Hills of the world is for the government to investigate and prosecute anti-abortion racketeers as vigorously as they do other organized crime and mob violence," said NOW President Patricia Ireland, responding to questions about NOW's position against the death penalty.
"Until we stop the entire network of anti-abortion terrorists who are threatening our lives, none of us will feel safe," said Ireland, in Pensacola to monitor the trial. NOW's response to the murder convictions received major media attention, appearing in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and USA Today.
Ireland took the opportunity to explain NOW position against the death penalty, a position that was applauded by The Washington Post in a Nov. 2 editorial: "Abortion rights leaders representing the National Organization for Women and Feminist Majority, who spoke in Pensacola yesterday, applauded the jury's verdict but argued against its recommending the death penalty. The objective, they said, is not to put one more person to death but to continue the government's efforts to bring criminals to justice. That's the right course."
Hill stood trial on three separate occasions in connection with the Pensacola murders. In his early November trial for the murders of Dr. Britton and Jim Barrett, Hill chose to defend himself, attempting to use justifiable homicide as his defense. The justifiable homicide defense was not allowed by Judge Bell because that defense is not applicable to the circumstances in this case.
The jury deliberated less than 20 minutes before finding Hill guilty of firing the fatal rounds from his shotgun into the truck occupied by Dr. Britton, Jim Barrett and June Barrett. June Barrett was wounded during the shooting.
While the jury in the state case recommended the death penalty, under Florida law Judge Bell has the option to sentence Hill to life in prison without the chance for parole. On Nov. 30, Judge Bell heard recommendations from the prosecution and the defense and set a sentencing date of Dec. 6.
In October, Hill stood trial on the charges that he violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law. The FACE trial was the first test of the new law, passed by Congress in May, which makes it a crime to use violence or threats of violence to interfere with access to abortion clinics and gives federal authorities jurisdiction in cases of clinic violence.
Hill chose to defend himself during the three day FACE trial, and did not call any witnesses or testify in his own behalf. The jury of six men and six women took only two hours to convict Hill on three charges of interfering with and injuring those involved in delivering reproductive services, and one count of using a firearm in the commission of a crime. On Dec. 2, Hill received two life sentences without parole, the maximum penalty under the law.
The National NOW Board of Directors, meeting in September in Florida, passed a resolution in support of the Pensacola NOW activists. The resolution authorized a tourism and convention boycott of Pensacola if necessary to pressure the city council to protect clinic staff and patients. The resolution also called for crisis teams across the nation that would be ready to respond to crises like the ones in Pensacola, a Pensacola Project to change the social and political climate there by raising feminist consciousness and recruiting feminist candidates to run for city and county offices and public criticism of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church for its inadequate and ineffective efforts to silence the advocacy of murder by David Trosch.
In other news from Pensacola, Grammy award-winning singer Bonnie Raitt made a $2,000 contribution to the Pensacola Clinic Access Project, a joint effort of NOW and the Feminist Majority Foundation that provides support for the two Pensacola clinics.
Raitt's generous contribution followed the controversy surrounding the cancellation of her concert in Pensacola. Following reports that the concert had been canceled due to Raitt's concern over the clinic violence, Pensacola NOW activists sent a letter to Raitt encouraging her to come to Pensacola to speak-out in support of abortion rights -- if that was in fact why the concert had been cancelled. Raitt wrote back saying that the cancellation was the result of a scheduling conflict and had nothing to do with the abortion-related violence. Her letter included the $2,000 contribution and 16 tickets to her New Orleans concert.
Following the concert, Raitt met with NOW activists backstage. She said the clinic violence gave her an even greater reason for wanting to perform in the area -- to speak out in support of abortion rights and safe access to clinics.
Escambia NOW activist Sherry Langlais said Raitt was very supportive of the Pensacola Clinic Access Project and spoke at length with the group. Raitt dedicated a song to the activists during an encore, and encouraged the audience to get out and vote.