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. following 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.
When the curtain opened revealing the witnesses Wednesday evening, 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, according to the records.
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 birthdate. Watson also gave Fulford permission to search the car rented in Howell’s name.
Before Fulford opened the package, a police dispatcher called Howell to let him know what was going on. Instead of mentioning the bomb, Howell said he had given Watson permission to drive the car, but didn’t think Watson was leaving the Fort Lauderdale area.
Howell said Wednesday that he had told Watson to make sure police didn’t get the bomb if he got pulled over along the way.
“I’m sorry,” Howell said. “When the cops called, I thought Lester wasn’t going to let them go in there.”
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.
The blast – so strong that it left a depression in the roadway – occurred along Interstate 10 just east of Tallahassee.
Had the blast occurred in Tammie Bailey’s apartment – the woman who was supposed to have received the bomb – it would have been powerful enough to blow out doors and walls, potentially killing anyone in the apartment as well as neighbors, according to court documents. Authorities said Bailey’s friend Yolanda McAllister also was an intended target. Bailey had previously told Howell she needed a microwave oven to heat her baby’s bottles.
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.
Madison County Sheriff Ben Stewart, who grew up with Fulford, remembers his old friend as a hero.
“He saved a bunch of people’s lives and I feel if he had to do it over again, he would have done the same thing because that’s just the kind of person he was,” Stewart said.
Florida Highway Patrol Major Mark Welch said after the execution that the patrol lost one of its most courageous officers 22 years ago this month.
“Rather than reflect on the incident that happened this night, we prefer to use this opportunity to honor Trooper Fulford,” Welch said. “Let this serve as a reminder of the danger that law enforcement officers face each and every day they put on their uniforms and leave their homes and families behind.”
No one from Fulford’s family witnessed the execution, and the family gave no statement after it was finished.
Fulford’s death prompted a state and federal investigation that broke apart a drug ring and led to the indictment of 28 people.
Howell, a native of Jamaica, was sentenced to life on federal drug charges. He was later convicted and sentenced to death on state charges of murder and making, possessing, placing and discharging an explosive device.
His 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.
Watson testified that while he saw Howell wrapping the box that contained the microwave oven, he never knew it was a bomb, thinking instead it held drugs. Watson was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a 40-year sentence.
Howell’s brother Patrick, who helped him build the bomb, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life.