After 24 years, Hill put to death

Published September 21, 2006

STARKE - A murderer who had contended that Florida's use of lethal injections amounted to cruel and unusual punishment was put to death by that method Wednesday night after the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly denied him another stay.

Clarence Hill, 48, was executed for the 1982 murder of Pensacola police Officer Stephen Taylor during a robbery of a savings and loan.

Hill, of Mobile, Ala., was pronounced dead at 6:12 p.m., having never gotten a hearing on the merits of his claim that Florida's lethal injection procedure causes extreme pain and is unconstitutional.

Strapped to a gurney, Hill stared straight at the ceiling and did not reply when asked whether he had a last statement. He was wearing a white skullcap, and his head was strapped down.

After the injection, he blinked his eyes a couple of times, his chest heaved and his mouth drooped. Physicians, wearing blue hoods and dark goggles to conceal their identities, checked his vital signs at 6:11 p.m. and pronounced him dead a minute later.

"Everything went according to protocol," said Robbie Cunningham, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections.

Hill had received visits Tuesday from defense attorney D. Todd Doss, a death row advocate, and Serena Mangano, of Modino, Italy. Mangano married Hill in June in a no-contact wedding at Florida State Prison in Starke. She visited him again Wednesday.

Hill did not order a special final meal and refused to eat the prison meal of tacos, beans and a salad Wednesday morning, Cunningham said.

In January, Hill was strapped to a gurney and his arms were hooked up with IV tubes when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped his execution. In June, in a 9-0 vote, the high court ruled that Hill could mount a challenge to the chemicals under a civil rights motion.

However, a federal district court in Tallahassee and an appeals court in Atlanta refused to hear those challenges, ruling that Hill should have filed earlier. Another appeal was filed with the Supreme Court, but this time it voted 5-4 on Wednesday to deny another stay.

As his scheduled January execution approached, Hill raised the argument that the three chemicals used in Florida executions and by many other states - sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride - can cause excruciating pain.

The first drug is a painkiller. The second one paralyzes the inmate and the third causes a fatal heart attack. Hill claimed that the painkiller can wear off before the lethal dose is administered.

The state contended that Hill should have raised his objections when the state switched from the electric chair in 2000. Doss claims he could not raise the issue until Hill's death warrant was first signed in November.

After the execution, Doss called for an examination of the state's capital punishment system.

"Not getting to the merits (of Hill's challenge) is obviously disturbing to me," Doss said. "I don't think anybody is better off, that's for sure."

Hill was the 61st inmate to die in Florida since the state resumed the death penalty in 1979 and the first to be executed this year.

Suzanne Vickrey, the widow of the slain police officer, witnessed the execution, along with his brother and a cousin.

"Justice was finally served," Vickrey said. "Twenty-four years is extremely too long for justice to be served."

While Hill was being executed, across the highway from the prison about 50 people protested against the death penalty.

On Oct. 19, 1982, Hill and Cliff Jackson attempted to rob the Freedom Federal Savings Bank in Pensacola. When an alarm went off, both fled. Taylor and a fellow officer caught Jackson and were attempting to handcuff him when Hill came up behind them and began shooting. Taylor died, and partner Larry Bailly was wounded. Hill was shot five times and was caught a short time later. Jackson was given a life sentence.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.