The death of Florida Highway Trooper Jimmy Fulford saved others, giving some comfort to his family as the execution of the man convicted of killing him approaches.
Fulford died in February 1992 along Interstate 10 in Jefferson County when a booby-trapped package exploded during a routine traffic stop.
The bomb was intended for a Marianna woman who lived in an apartment complex with her baby. Another woman and other children lived in the next unit over and the bomb was powerful enough that it would have blown out windows, doors and walls if it was detonated in an enclosed area, according to court records.
"I'm sure there would have been a lot more people killed besides her," said Tim Fulford, the trooper's brother. "That is a comfort. He did die saving other people's lives."
The man who built the bomb that killed Fulford is scheduled to die by injection on Wednesday, exactly one year after the original execution date set in a process that has been held up by appeals. The time it's taken for Paul Howell's sentence to be carried out has been painful for Fulford's family, especially having to be reminded of the circumstances as Howell's lawyers successfully delayed the execution the past 12 months, Fulford's brother said.
"It's something our family will never get over. This process is too long," Fulford said. "Closure will never come. The only way that would happen is if my brother walked through the door and we both know that won't happen."
Fulford is remembered as an excellent officer and strong family man. It was his dream to become a trooper when he was growing up in Madison County. He was first assigned to a troop in Bradenton, where he met his wife, Keith Ann. He eventually was assigned to patrol the area where he grew up and the couple was raising a son and a daughter in Monticello when Fulford died. He was 35.
"It was just a dream come true for him and things were working really well," said Madison County Sheriff Ben Stewart, who grew up with Fulford and was serving as a deputy when Fulford died.
Fulford was active in his church, singing in the choir and teaching Sunday school. He liked fishing and hunting and spending time with his family. He was always helping neighbors, Stewart said.
"Jimmy was just a really good guy. He was one of the best officers I've ever known. He was very kind-hearted and he very much believed in enforcing the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law. He just believed in helping people," he said. "Just a strong Christian guy and just a country boy, but he always wanted to be a trooper."
Howell, a native of Jamaica, was a drug trafficker living in Fort Lauderdale when he built the bomb. He was trying to kill two potential witnesses in another drug-related murder. Howell paid Lester Watson to drive a rented car from Fort Lauderdale to deliver the gift-wrapped box that contained a microwave oven with a pipe bomb inside that was set to explode when the door was opened. One of the women had told Howell she needed a microwave oven to heat her baby's formula.
Fulford stopped Watson for speeding in Jefferson County. Watson was driving a car rented in Howell's name and gave Fulford a false name and birthdate. A dispatcher called Howell to ask if Watson had permission to drive the car. Howell said yes, but told the dispatcher he didn't think Watson was leaving Broward County. He didn't mention the bomb in the trunk.
"This was evil intent. It was meant to kill somebody. And they didn't care. These guys had an opportunity once they were arrested, to say 'Look, don't open the thing,'" Stewart said.
Two Jefferson County deputies assisted Fulford by taking Watson and his passenger to the county jail. While they were gone, Fulford opened the package setting off a massive explosion that left a depression in the highway.
"I'd like to think that if Jimmy had not intercepted that bomb, a woman and innocent kids would have all been killed and that was the sacrifice that Jimmy made," said Florida Highway Patrol Major Mark Welch.
A state and federal investigation after the death led to and the dismantling of a drug ring based in South Florida and the indictment of 28 people.