Jury Sentences Zealot to Death in S.C. Shootout

'Patriot' Crimes

If Steven Bixby ever had a chance of avoiding the death penalty for murdering two South Carolina law enforcement officers in 2003, it surely disappeared under the torrent of 1,500 pages of letters he wrote a girlfriend while awaiting trial.

Signing each of his missives "chaotic patriot Steve," the 39-year-old New Hampshire transplant wrote Alane Taylor that God had sent him and his father "to get rid of the evil in Abbeville," S.C., where the pair were involved in a massive shootout and standoff with police. He identified himself as the triggerman in the deaths of Abbeville County Sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Danny Wilson and State Constable Donnie Outz. He boasted that he could have killed eight additional officers.

And Bixby even described how, after shooting Wilson through a window of the family home, he handcuffed the dying officer and dragged him inside. Then, the antigovernment "Patriot" explained, he read Wilson his Miranda rights.

"What we did in Abbeville on Dec. 8 was right," Bixby said.

A South Carolina jury didn't see it that way. Bixby, 39, was convicted in February of the two murders, kidnapping, conspiracy and 12 counts of assault. Days later, the jury sentenced Bixby to death. His father Arthur, said by family members to be suffering from Alzheimer's, is likely to be tried on the same charges later this year. His mother, who is not eligible for the death penalty, is also expected to face trial on accessory charges. Rita Bixby was not present during the explosive Dec. 8, 2003, confrontation at the Bixby home, but is accused of helping to plan it.

Incredibly, the murders stemmed from a dispute between the Bixbys and state highway workers who wanted to widen a road that ran in front of the Bixbys' house. Although the state had purchased the 20 feet of frontage in question years before the Bixbys moved there, the family furiously vowed to defend the land with force.

Wilson was shot through the armhole of his bulletproof vest as he approached the Bixby home to talk to the family about the dispute. Outz was shot in the back as he stepped out of his car after coming to check on Wilson's welfare. A 14-hour standoff ensued, with hundreds of shots fired, and Arthur Bixby was left badly wounded.

The Bixbys had been involved in tax-protest and other radical groups in New Hampshire before moving to Abbeville. Rita Bixby home-schooled her son with a special emphasis on the Constitution, teaching him, as she testified in his defense, that he had "the right to protect his property by any means necessary."