Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Man executed in 1992 bomb death of Fla. trooper

STARKE — A drug trafficker who placed a pipe bomb in a gift-wrapped microwave oven in a plot to kill two potential murder witnesses was executed Wednesday for the 1992 death of a Florida highway trooper who became the unintended victim.

Paul Augustus Howell, 48, was pronounced dead at 6:32 p.m. after a lethal injection at the Florida State Prison in Starke.

Howell was condemned for the killing of Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Jimmy Fulford on Feb. 1, 1992, when the package exploded during a traffic stop.

On Wednesday, when the curtain opened revealing the witnesses, Howell opened his eyes wide and lifted his head to stare at those gathered. He then began praying.

When asked if he had any words, he apologized to Fulford's family. He then gave a 2-minute statement detailing the events of the crime and placing blame on a friend for letting the bomb go off.

Howell built the bomb in his Fort Lauderdale home and placed it in the microwave oven, court documents stated. He then paid another man, Lester Watson, $200 to deliver the box across-state to a woman in Marianna who, along with a friend, could tie Howell to a drug-related murder.

But Fulford pulled Watson over for speeding about an hour from his Florida Panhandle destination and the bomb never was delivered to the intended target. Instead, Watson was arrested after giving Fulford a false name and birth date. Watson also gave Fulford permission to search the car rented in Howell's name.

Two deputies took Watson and a passenger to a jail while Fulford took inventory of the car's contents. When the 35-year-old trooper opened the package and looked to see what was in the microwave oven, a powerful explosion took his life.

Fulford's death prompted a state and federal investigation that broke apart a drug ring and led to the indictment of 28 people.

Once the execution began at 6:19 p.m., the microphone was turned off, but Howell spoke rapidly for about a minute. His words then started to slow, and he lost consciousness. Department of Corrections spokeswoman Jessica Cary later said Howell was praying.

No one from Fulford's family witnessed the execution, and the family gave no statement after it was finished.

Howell's lawyers had filed an unsuccessful appeal Tuesday to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that a new drug Florida uses for executions wasn't tested for that purpose. This was the fifth execution in the state using the new drug, midazolam hydrochloride, as part of a three-drug mix.

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