Federal judges hear killer Hill’s mental-state case

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit  in Cincinnati on Wednesday heard oral arguments on convicted murderer Danny Lee Hill’s claim to be intellectually disabled and thus ineligible to be executed for the 1985 murder of a 12-year-old boy.

Attorneys for both sides each took 30 minutes to present their cases to the panel of three federal judges, who are to issue a written decision.

Peter Reid, deputy solicitor for the Ohio Attorney General’s office, presented the state’s case. “This hearing was a close call but was backed by two credible experts,” Reid said.

Defense attorney Vicki Ruth Adams Werneke said the state courts “malfunctioned” in handling the intellectual disability claim. She argued Hill was first tested and found to be intellectually disabled back when he was 6.

“Everyone agreed he had an IQ of 63. The school records and his prison records showed he had adaptive deficits and self-care deficits,” Warneke said in noting that Hill is constantly reminded about hygiene care in prison.

Hill, 49, was 18 when he was convicted of raping, torturing and murdering Raymond Fife in a field on Warren’s southwest side in 1985. He was sentenced to death in February 1986 after a Trumbull County trial before a three-judge panel.

The Sixth Circuit court received the case after defense attorneys appealed the ruling of Federal Judge John R. Adams, who in June 2014 denied habaes corpus relief on Hill’s intellectually disability claim.

Hill’s attorneys  filed the appeal in federal court in 2010 after Hill was  found fit to remain on death row by a visiting common pleas judge, the 11th District Court of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court, which refused even to hear the matter.

The U.S Supreme Court in the case Virginia vs. Adkins ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute intellectually disabled persons.

The victim’s mother, Miriam Fife, and a group of family members were in the Cincinnati courtroom Wednesday. Hill, who is housed on death row at Chillicothe Correctional Institution, was not present in court. “This is the second time we had to go down there for an Adkins hearing,” Fife said. “Some of the defense arguments were kind of shallow.”

Fife said she thinks the appellate court will hold off on a decision in the Hill case until the U.S. Supreme Court hears a mental retardation argument in a Texas case involving 57-year-old death row inmate Bobby James Moore who was convicted in the 1980 shotgun death of a Houston grocery store clerk.

Earlier this year, a retired Summit County judge ruled that Hill should not get a new trial over the issue of bite-mark evidence that defense attorneys unsuccessfully argued was not reliable and was central to Hill’s original conviction.

gvogrin@tribtoday.com

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