Former pastor defends himself in murder trial

The Associated Press

PENSACOLA, Fla. Acting as his own lawyer after another change of heart, a man accused of killing an abortion doctor warned the jury at the start of his trial Tuesday that those who countenance abortion "will answer to God."

"May God have mercy on us all," Paul Hill declared in his opening statement in federal court.

Hill then asked no questions of prosecution witnesses who said they saw him or a man looking like him outside a clinic at the time of the July 29 shotgun slayings of Dr. John Bayard Britton, 69, and bodyguard James H. Barrett, 74.

The 40-year-old former minister is the first person to stand trial under the federal law enacted earlier this year against injuring or otherwise interfering with anyone entering an abortion clinic. Conviction could bring a life prison term.

Hill is also awaiting trial in state court on charges of murder and attempted murder; if convicted there, he could get the electric chair.

Hill, a former pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, took over his defense after U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson refused to let him argue the killings were justifiable homicide.

Hill's lawyers had wanted to employ a necessity defense, arguing that Hill killed to prevent the greater evil of abortion. Before the slayings, Hill had openly advocated killing abortion providers.

"There are legal alternatives, certainly legal alternatives far less intrusive and far less evil," the judge said, affirming an earlier ruling.

Vinson also ruled the defense had failed to provide evidence that abortions performed at the clinic were illegally done on viable fetuses.

In a brief opening statement, Hill said: "During this trial, you will see this government is unjust as it does not protect human life. To the extent that we participate in this evil, we will answer to God. May God have mercy on us all."

Hill originally had a public defender. Last month, he changed his mind and was allowed to represent himself. Last week, Hill asked that two standby lawyers appointed to advise him be allowed to represent him. After Tuesday's switch, the defense lawyers again will act as standby attorneys, advising Hill.

Nine prosecution witnesses testified they saw Hill firing a gun, standing near Barrett's body or leaving the clinic parking lot immediately after the shooting.

"I heard the pop-pop and I thought this truck had backfired," said Dorothy Disney, who was driving by at the time. She said she saw Barrett's truck and body and then a man who matched Hill's description a few feet away.

"He had a weapon in his hands," Disney said. "He was staring down at the body."

Fire Capt. Earl Albert Jackson, who was driving the truck Ms. Disney thought backfired, said he saw Hill pull a gun out of the bushes in front of the clinic. "He took about two steps ... raised the gun and shot the gun," he said.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney David McGee, told jurors that Hill "executed two men in cold blood." McGee said Hill fired four shots, reloaded the 12-gauge shotgun he'd bought two days before, then fired three more times.

The federal law was prompted by the 1993 slaying of another abortion doctor in Pensacola, Dr. David Gunn, 47. Abortion foe Michael Griffin was convicted in state court of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Hill also plans to represent himself at his murder trial, beginning Jan. 30.

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