By Brendan Farrington
STARKE, Fla. — 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 prison curtain opened revealing the witnesses, Howell opened his eyes wide and lifted his head to stare at those gathered. He then began praying. 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. Instead, Watson was arrested after giving Fulford a false name. 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."
When the 35-year-old trooper opened the package, a powerful explosion took his life. The blast occurred along Interstate 10 just east of Tallahassee. Two deputies had already taken Watson and a passenger to a jail before Fulford checked the car's contents.
Watson previously testified that while he saw Howell wrapping the box that contained the microwave, 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.
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 and 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.
No one from Fulford's family witnessed the execution or gave a statement.
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 sentenced to death following conviction on state charges of murder and making, possessing, placing and discharging an explosive device.
Howell's brother Patrick, who helped him build the bomb, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life.
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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press