Appeal made in Hill case

WARREN — Ohio’s top attorney is appealing to the full panel of judges on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals a ruling that convicted murderer Danny Lee Hill has an intellectual disability and should not be put to death.

The appeal filed Friday with the court in Cincinnati states a three-judge panel of the court erred when they made that determination on Feb. 2.

The smaller panel’s ruling upheld Hill’s conviction, but overturned a lower court’s ruling upholding the death sentence and ordered the case back into Trumbull County Common Pleas Court for resentencing.

“The position of my office is we strongly believe this was a wrong decision, and it should be appealed,” said Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins. “We are very happy with (Ohio Attorney General) Mike DeWine and the solicitor’s office that we are appealing.”

The three judges ruled that state court judges and mental health experts who declared Hill is not mentally retarded were wrong, and that there is clear and convincing evidence in the record he is mentally retarded.

The 15-page appeal disagrees, stating the judges were wrong by not deferring to experts and three lower court rulings that Hill is not intellectually disabled.

It also states the judges did not properly consider Hill’s adaptive skills and argued against the judge’s criticisms of state court relying too much on testimony of prison officials when evaluating Hill’s adaptive deficits.

Experts tested Hill, but all agreed he was either “faking bad and / or malingering” so the experts and courts were forced to rely on “second-best ‘collateral sources,’ including prison records,” the appeal states.

“Yet the panel now criticizes the state courts for relying on those records, allowing Hill to benefit from his malingering,” the appeal states.

Hill, then 18, was sentenced to death for the brutal murder of Raymond Fife, 12, on Sept. 10, 1985. Fife was attacked in a wooded area near Palmyra Road SW, beaten, sexually tortured, strangled, set on fire and left for dead. He died two days later.

Co-defendant in the case, Timothy Combs, then 17, is serving multiple, consecutive life sentences since he wasn’t eligible for the death sentence as a juvenile.

Fife’s mother, Miriam, said she is “very pleased” the appeal was made.

“We are, of course, all happy with the fact the attorney general saw the need to file this appeal and our family wants to see this thing to the end, and go as far as we can go,” Fife said.