Appeal made to Supreme Court in Danny Lee Hill case

WARREN — The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the case of convicted murderer Danny Lee Hill, who, under a lower court’s decision, stands to be removed from Ohio’s death row.

The request, sought by Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, is on an early 2018 ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that overturns Hill’s sentence and orders him to be resentenced for the brutal murder of Raymond Fife in September 1985. The lower court ruling could result in Hill, 51, being taken off death row and resentenced to life in prison.

Monday was the deadline for the attorney general’s office to petition the high court.

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.

An appeal for the full circuit court to reconsider the panel’s decision was rejected in April.

Using cases that occurred after Hill’s trial, the circuit court applied rulings that did not exist when Hill was convicted to overturn the death penalty conviction, according to attorney Eric E. Murphy, a lawyer with the state attorney general.

“The Sixth Circuit improperly graded the state court’s decision based on materials that were unavailable to them,” Murphy wrote in the petition.

Murphy noted the state court held 11 days worth of hearings during which five expert witnesses concluded Hill either was not mentally impaired or was faking to prevent them to establish his mental capacity.

Watkins said the state’s “brilliant” petition speaks well for the need of the Supreme Court to review the case.

“The law requires federal courts to give deference to the judges of state court,” Watkins said. “The rulings of state court judges should be respected, unless there there is unreasonable application of the facts.”

“Danny Lee Hill was not retarded,” Watkins said. “Hill committed the crime. He went to the police station to seek the reward for evidence leading to arrest of a suspect.”

Hill, then 18, was sentenced to death for Fife’s murder 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.