Danny Lee Hill case hits stumbling block

Prosecutor seeks Supreme Court intervention

WARREN — Trumbull County’s prosecutor wants the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the case of convicted murderer Danny Lee Hill, who stands to be removed from death row under a lower federal court’s ruling.

Dennis Watkins has asked the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to appeal to the high court a ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that overturns Hill’s sentence and orders him to be resentenced for the brutal murder of a young boy in September 1985.

The request comes after the court in Cincinnati on Monday rejected an appeal by the attorney general’s office for the court’s full panel of judges to reconsider the ruling made Feb. 2 by a three-judge panel of the court.

The smaller panel determined Hill has an intellectual disability and should not be put to death. It upheld the conviction, but overturned the sentence and ordered the case back to Trumbull County Common Pleas Court for resentencing.

Unless challenged with an appeal to the Supreme Court, the ruling would result in Hill being resentenced to life in prison.

“The bottom line is that Ohio has nothing to lose and everything to gain with an appeal to the United States Supreme Court in the next 90 days,” Watkins wrote in the letter to Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Office.

DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said the appeal to the high court is an option they are considering.

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 first appeal disagreed, 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.

“Our good reasons … are still valid today,” Watkins wrote to DeWine’s office.

Hill, then 18, was sentenced to death for the 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.