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Bush says threats won't stop execution

People who cite religion in supporting an abortion clinic killer distort Christianity, the governor adds.

By Associated Press
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 22, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday rejected the notion that Paul Hill, who killed a doctor and an escort at an abortion clinic, was acting in the name of God and should be spared execution next month.

"That's not the religion I believe in," Bush said of people who cite Christianity in their support of Hill. "I think it's an incredible distortion of the Christian faith."

Bush, a Roman Catholic, also said threatening letters sent this week to three state officials and a judge won't stop Hill's execution Sept. 3 for the murders of Dr. John B. Britton and James H. Barrett at a Pensacola abortion clinic in 1994.

Attorney General Charlie Crist, two state prison officials and the judge who sentenced Hill received letters, each containing a bullet, that cited religion for supporting Hill. At least one of the letters also included Bush in the threat, although the governor didn't receive a letter.

"This man brutally murdered people, cold-blooded, premeditated," Bush said while speaking with reporters. "To do it for life's sake makes it even sicker in my opinion.

"No threats, no free advice from others will change my obligation to do what I think is right," the governor said.

"It's so bizarre to think that sending letters with bullets - threatening letters - and then say that "I'm doing this in the name of Jesus Christ,' " Bush said. "That's not my Jesus."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI continued to try to trace the letters sent to Crist, Corrections Secretary James Crosby, Florida State Prison Warden Joe Thompson and Circuit Judge Frank Bell in Pensacola. Bell presided over Hill's sentencing.

"The FBI's interest would be in determining whether there's any organized extremist groups involved that may be planning any violence," said Special Agent Jeff Westcott in the FBI's Jacksonville office.

None of the recipients of the letters would comment on their contents.

During an appearance at the dedication of a new state nursing home for veterans in Springfield, Bush said he wasn't fazed by the threats.

"It's part of my job. It's part of what I do to get threats," said Bush.

Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty renewed a call Thursday for commuting Hill's sentence to life without parole and cited the potential for retaliatory violence by extremists.

"Considering the fact that Hill has encouraged others to follow in his example, together with the death threats recently sent to various officials in Florida, Gov. Bush must put the safety of Floridians above politics," said the group's director, Abe Bonowitz.

Bush said it wasn't politics, but a "duty to enforce the law."

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