Danny Lee Hill appeal for new trial denied

WARREN — An appeals court held up the trial court’s refusal to grant Danny Lee Hill a new trial based on the possibility the bite-mark science used to describe evidence used in his trial was unreliable, according to court documents.

The 11th District Court of Appeals issued the ruling Monday supporting the 2016 ruling out of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

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

She found Hill’s attorneys were unable to prove “a strong probability that there would be a different outcome if a new trial were granted in this case,” according to court documents.

The court of appeals affirmed her ruling.

In January 1986, Hill, who was then 18, was convicted 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. He died last month in prison.

The appeal argued, among other things, that Hill should have been granted a new trial because the court did not determine the bite-mark argument amounted to new evidence, did not hold an evidentiary hearing, allowed the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office to represent the state although the defense attempted to disqualify his office and did not consider or rule on Hill’s argument that “fabricated expert evidence at his trial” constituted a violation of his Constitutional rights.

Hill’s attorneys argued new expert testimony should be used to replace the testimony on the bite-mark evidence presented at trial decades ago.

“Hill’s argument fails to appreciate that the crucial issue is whether there was unavoidable delay in obtaining their testimony,” the appeals court opinion states.

And one of the experts Hill procured states that “his opinions are not based on any advances in scientific knowledge,” the opinion states.

Hill’s statements to police, witnesses who placed him at the scene of the attack on Fife, previous violent and sexually oriented attacks Hill committed and knowledge of the crime supports the trial court’s ruling that Hill would have been convicted with or without the bite-mark evidence, the appeals court ruled.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is holding weekly conferences to determine if it should intervene in a ruling that could take Hill off of death row following a ruling earlier this year by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned Hill’s death sentence and ordered he be resentenced.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case after petitions from the Trumbull County prosecutor.

The court accepts about 1 percent of cases per year. The court could relist the case at another time, make an opinion without a full hearing, grant a full hearing or decide not to hear the case.

A three-judge panel of the circuit court ruled in February state court judges and mental health experts who declared Hill is not intellectually disabled were wrong, and there is clear evidence he is mentally disabled.

COMMENTS