STARKE, Fla. – Pensacola, Fla., cop killer Clarence Hill took his last breath at 6:12 p.m. Wednesday. But his execution could have implications for others on death row across the country.

Hill won a temporary reprieve in January when the U.S. Supreme Court halted his execution after he was strapped to a gurney and awaiting his lethal injections. His subsequent legal challenges were rejected as last-minute stall tactics and the high court voted 5-4 to deny Hill another stay Wednesday.

In the death chamber at Florida State Prison, Hill died after receiving a lethal, intravenous three-drug cocktail, making him the 61st person executed in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated nationwide in 1976.

Prison officials said Hill declined his last meal of soft tacos, beans and rice. When asked if he had a final statement, Hill did not reply, staring at the ceiling. After the injection, he blinked his eyes a couple times, his chest heaved and his mouth drooped. The physicians, wearing blue hoods and dark goggles, checked his vital signs at 6:11 p.m., and pronounced him dead a minute later.

He had received visits Tuesday from his defense attorney, D. Todd Doss, a death row advocate who witnessed the execution. “I saw his eyes flicker and the chest start heaving and he was out,” said Doss. “Just because Mr. Hill is gone doesn’t mean that the issue of lethal injection is going away.”

Outside the prison, three dozen death penalty opponents huddled under an oak tree surrounded by reporters.

“The state is killing in my name,” said Pastor Phil Egitto, 47, who arrived with more than 30 members of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Daytona Beach, Fla. “Not all of us want this.”

State attorneys general and death penalty advocates hope Hill, 48, of Mobile, Ala, will be just another footnote in future legal briefs challenging the death penalty, especially with the current debate raging around the nation over lethal injection.

“Late is late,” said Carolyn Snurkowski, Florida deputy assistant attorney general in charge of criminal appeals. “Right now, all of the court (rulings) thus far have said, he’s too late.”

Hill’s death is not expected to open the floodgates with other states reviewing cases involving lethal injection, according to several death penalty and legal experts.

It now joins the long line of cases where the legal tactics ultimately failed.

Hill was convicted of the 1982 first-degree murder of Pensacola Officer Stephen Taylor and sentenced to death the following year and again in 1986 after the Florida Supreme Court ordered a resentencing.

Hill’s lawyers had argued in recent months that the three chemicals used in Florida executions and by many other states – sodium pentothal, pancuronium and potassium chloride – could paralyze him, but still allow him to feel excruciating pain. The first drug is a painkiller; the second paralyzes the inmate; and the third stops the heart.

Attorneys for the state have contended such arguments should have been filed long ago and were a stalling tactic. In June, the high court said Hill could pursue a separate, civil rights lawsuit challenging the methods of execution.

As of April 2006, there were at least 3,370 inmates on death rows nationwide, according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Florida was ranked third in the country with 392, behind California’s 652 and Texas’ 404, the group said.

The Florida Department of Corrections said Wednesday that including Hill, it had 377 inmates on death row.

Thirty-eight states have death penalties on the books, though only 33 have executed prisoners since 1976 when it was revived in the courts. Florida has ranked fifth nationally with 61.

Texas has led the way with 375, followed by Virginia, 97; Oklahoma, 83; and Missouri, 66, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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