September 3, 2003: The Execution of Anti-Abortion Extremist Paul Jennings Hill


On July 29, 1994, Paul Jennings Hill, a minister and anti-abortion extremist, murdered a physician and his bodyguard. He was sentenced to death for his crimes, and was executed by lethal injection on September 3, 2003.


Hill was born in Miami, Florida in 1954 to an airline pilot, Oscar Jennings Hill, and his wife, Louise. At age 17, he was charged with assault when he attacked his father for trying to get him treatment for his drug problem. He was sent to military school, where he claimed to have had a religious conversion.

He attended Belhaven University and met Karen Demuth, and the couple married. They had 3 children together.

He then graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary, studying under the founder of the right-wing Christian Reconstructionist movement, Greg Bahnsen. Essentially, he became a bit of a religious nut during this time.

In 1984, he became a minister, affiliated with both the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian church. However, when he claimed a connection to the Army of God, an anti-abortion terrorist group, and became a national spokesperson for defense against abortion providers, he was promptly excommunicated from the church.


On July 29, 1994, Hill approached an abortion clinic called the Ladies Center in Pensacola, Florida. He spotted one of the clinic's doctors, John Britton, and his bodyguard, a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James H. Barrett outside the clinic. He shot at both of them at close range, and they both died. Barrett's wife, June, was injured in the crossfire, but survived. He laid his weapon down, and awaited arrest.

It was a long time coming. Prior to the murders, he had sent 2 papers out with his views on abortion, and why he considered the murder of abortion providers to be warranted. The church vehemently condemned his actions, saying, "the public will regard your dual assassination as the act of a condemned man outside of God's church and acting in his own defiance of Bible-revealed law and therefore also God's moral law."

Hill said that he knew his "justifiable homicide" would leave him without his wife and children, but did not believe he would be executed for it. He said that he had weighed his options, but decided that killing the abortion doctor outweighed leaving his wife and children behind. (Hey guess what idiot: Abortion likely continued at the exact same rate. You didn't do anything.)

He said that he hid his intentions from his wife, taking his family to the beach on his last day as a free man, leaving himself with the "happy and serene" scene of his children playing at the beach.

He was charged with 2 counts of first degree premeditated murder and one count of attempted first degree murder. He represented himself, pleading not guilty on all counts. He claimed his actions were a defensive act, which is bananas, and he was rightfully found guilty of the murders, and sentenced to death. He appealed through various channels, but all of his appeals and petitions were denied.

Hill spent nearly a decade in prison awaiting his execution, where he never expressed remorse for his actions. In fact, he said that he expected a "great reward in Heaven" leading me to believe we have been taught 2 different bibles. He continued to tell others that people should "do what they have to do" to stop abortion. While in custody, he had told the media to "defend the unborn as to defend a slave that's about to be murdered".

He spent his final day with his wife, his 18-year-old son, his parents, and his 2 sisters. (He had 2 daughters as well who apparently did not join on his final day.) His spiritual advisor said that Hill died with joy in his heart because he knew what he did was wrong, giving his life for the unborn. (Okay, except you took the lives of 2 people who were actually already born, and you didn't stop abortion. So. Anyway.)

His final words were "May God help you to protect the unborn as you would want to be protected."


John Britton had replaced David Gun in 1993 as a doctor at the Ladies Center after Gunn had been murdered in 1993 by another anti-abortion extremist.

He was born in Boston and graduated from the University of Virginia School of Medicine in 1949. He served in the U.S. Army in Korea, and did a stint teaching at the Medical College of Georgia before becoming a family physician in Fernandina Beach, Florida. He spent much of his career delivering babies.

After his predecessor was murdered, he began flying across the state to Pensacola weekly to perform abortions at the Ladies Center. He had a volunteer bodyguard, wore a homemade bulletproof vest, and carried a gun to keep him safe going to work. Unfortunately, the bulletproof vest was rendered useless, as Hill knew he had one on, and shot him in the head.

Britton himself was ambivalent about the act of abortion, and was even vocal about his personal opposition to the procedure. Certain times, he would turn away women seeking it depending on the circumstances, telling them to think on it for a week, and to return the following week if they still wanted it. And though I think telling women to think on it isn't necessarily his decision, I don't know the circumstances: perhaps they made sense. I'm going to crown him a pro-choice king. He personally opposed the procedure, and yet, despite the danger he knew it would put him in, continued to travel to perform them because a woman's right to choose doesn't care about his personal beliefs... and he knew that.

James Barrett was going to turn 75 the next day until his life was taken from him. He was excited for "the party to end all parties" to celebrate his big birthday. He left behind his wife, sons, and a daughter. He was buried at Arlington Cemetery, and his wife was given an American flag folded by military pallbearers. His grandson played Amazing Grace on the guitar.

He had grown up in Annapolis, Maryland and was commissioned into the Army Air Corps before World War II. He served in the Air Force through both the Korean and Vietnam wars. He retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1969. And then died walking a man into his job.

After retiring, his got a teaching certificate from Southwest Texas State University and taught middle school biology for 11 years. His first wife died, and then he met June, and married her in 1990. They worked together as escorts for doctors and abortion patients.

I honestly and truly do not and cannot understand the logic of a pro-life extremist killing someone. It is the absolute stupidest oxymoron I have ever heard. You're so pro life that in order to protect life that hasn't even been born yet, you kill someone who has very much already been born? And additionally, abortion providers don't only perform abortions. That doctor may have saved many lives in his time. How do you weigh the value of a doctor's life against unborn lives, that will not be saved because you murdered a dude, and believe that killing the doctor is the right move?

This is why I believe many "pro-life" people are just pro-birth. Because once they're born, the caring stops. Poor and can't afford to eat? Too bad, your parents are lazy and don't need government handouts. Black with a single non-violent charge on his criminal history? Too bad, if you followed the law, police wouldn't kill you. Gay or trans? Disgusting, disgrace to God. Or more on the nose in this situation: become an abortion provider. You fight for their right to be born, but if they grow up to perform abortions, you kill them. Very pro-life.

I know that most pro-life people do not believe that abortion providers should be killed. And I certainly won't allow the actions of an extremist to speak for the actions of every single pro-life person. But I think we should all be more like Dr. John Britton. Regardless of your personal opinions, women should have the option to choose what makes the most sense for them. Sure, you can tell them to think on it or provide resources and options... but they are just that. Options. And termination should be one of them if they so choose. Because your opinion is just that. YOURS. If you're a secular woman, the decision should be between you and your doctor, or you, your doctor, and your partner. If you're a religious woman, throw God into the mix. My mom always said, "it is a decision between you and God".

If the pro-life movement focused on providing helpful resources to women without shaming them for considering abortion, and without judging them if that is the avenue they eventually choose, that would be good. If the pro-life movement focused on ensuring access to birth control to women and comprehensive sex education to teens to cut down on unwanted pregnancies and thus, abortion, that would be great, too. But sharing photos of unborn fetuses, judging women for their decision, making up fake stories about abortions at 39 weeks (hint: THAT DOESN'T HAPPEN) to scare or shame women into the decision you want is not pro-life. It is pro-control. And not being in support of programs that would benefit children of unwanted (and unsupported) pregnancies means you're not pro-life, you're just pro-birth. They're on their own after that.

Anyway, I'm off my soapbox. I think 99% of people can agree that what this man did was totally and absolutely wrong, and that killing an abortion provider is horrific and out and out murder. It is not a defense of the unborn, it is a terrible crime.

RIP to Dr. Britton and Lieutenant Barrett, who did not deserve to die when going to work.


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