High court halts Hill's execution

Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 11:25 p.m.
RAIFORD - Clarence Edward Hill waited an hour past the time he was scheduled to die, before the U.S. Supreme Court gave word he would live at least another day.
Hill, 48, was sentenced to death for murdering a Pensacola police officer 23 years ago. The court issued a last-minute stay in Hill's execution as it decided whether to hear arguments that he is mentally retarded and that Florida's lethal injection method is cruel and unusual punishment.
State Department of Corrections officials said the court could make that decision as early as this morning, but weren't clear whether the execution would be immediately rescheduled if the appeal was rejected. Hill's defense attorney, D. Todd Dodd, said he wasn't sure whether the stay would mean just a one-day reprieve for his client.
"It could happen (today). I could happen a month from now. I don't know," he said.
Nearly 30 witnesses sat in the execution chamber at Florida State Prison in near-complete silence for more than an hour past the scheduled 6 p.m. execution, waiting for a brown curtain to open for the procedure to be viewed.
Debbie Buchanan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections, said the delay was the longest she experienced in the state's past 30 executions. She didn't know whether Hill was behind the curtain, hooked up to the lethal-injection machine as he waited to hear from the court.
Hill, 48, was sentenced to death for murdering Pensacola police Officer Stephen Taylor, 26, during a botched bank robbery. The Florida Supreme Court rejected his latest appeal last week and 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did the same Tuesday afternoon.
He didn't request a final meal and refused to eat the prison meal brought to him Tuesday morning.
He received a final visit in the morning from a pen pal, Serena Mangano of Modena, Italy. He was met from 1-5 p.m. by a spiritual adviser, Khaled Mohammed of Inmate WAQF, an Islamic group based in Gainesville that provides religious services for prisoners.
Hill converted to Islam in prison and changed his name to Razzaq Muhammad, according to a Web site, Surviving thesystem.com. He admits his guilt and says he is sorry for killing Taylor.
"I know I did a lot of things wrong that day which I am not proud of, and I wish I could begin October 19th, 1982 all over again," he wrote. "I would spend it with Allah with the love and knowledge I have today."
About 50 anti-death penalty advocates gathered at the prison to protest the execution, leaving when they heard word of the stay.
One of only two pro-death penalty advocates who came to the site, Roy Brown, stayed later and said he would return for the execution.
Brown's 7-year-old daughter was murdered and the man convicted for the crime is on Death Row and currently appealing his sentence. He said he attended the execution to give support for Taylor's family, expressing disappointment in the delay.
"It's the system, man," he said. "You can't live without it and you can't live with it."
Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or crabben@gvillesun.com.

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