Attorneys appeal Danny Lee Hill’s trial decision

WARREN — Attorneys for convicted killer Danny Lee Hill have filed an appeal of the decision of a visiting judge who earlier this month denied Hill’s bid for a new trial.

The appeal, which was filed Tuesday in Common Pleas Court, has been assigned to the 11th District Court of Appeals.

Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove on Oct. 3 ruled that even though she had serious concerns about the scientific reliability of bite mark evidence, other evidence against the defendant was “more than sufficient to support Hill’s conviction on aggravated murder and three death penalty specifications.”

County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, in a written statement, said he is not commenting until the appeal process is completed.

Attempts to contact federal public defender Vicki Ruth Adams Werneke, one of Hill’s attorneys, were unsuccessful Wednesday.

In January 1986, Hill was convicted by the three-judge panel and later sentenced to death for his part in the Sept. 10, 1985, torture, rape and brutal attack on 12-year-old Raymond Fife, who later died from his injuries. Hill’s co-defendant, Timothy Combs, was 17 at the time of the killing and not eligible for the death penalty. Combs was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted by a jury in Portage County.

Fife’s mother, Miriam Fife, said the appeal is not unexpected.

“This is one of these things that we have to go through,” Fife said. “The thing I care about is that all the time, effort and money that we’ve spent on this process  is to prove a point.”

Cosgrove, in her written decision, said she spent extensive time reviewing everything in the Hill case, including videos of his interrogation with police following the murder. The judge also reviewed case law from Ohio as well as from other jurisdictions, including the testimony from a Dec. 21 evidentiary hearing on the defense motion to file a motion for new trial.

On June 7, Cosgrove ruled that Hill’s attorneys could file a motion for a new trial. The judge said she based this decision in part on the testimony of Dennis Terez, a federal public defender who had testified about the complexity and protracted process to file a motion for new trial in state court. On June 13, Hill’s attorney filed a new motion for new trial, but Cosgrove noted the defense had “expanded the grounds” beyond the bite mark issue to include interrogation techniques used by police, the mental capacity claims and arguments regarding the admission of a stick found at the crime scene.