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Timothy Combs, co-defendant in Raymond Fife murder, dies

Combs was serving life sentence

Tribune Chronicle file photo A Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office deputy leans over to talk to murder defendant Timothy Combs, then 18, in this April 21, 1986, file photo before leading him out of the courtroom. Combs, who was later convicted in the brutal murder of 12-year-old Raymond Fife, died at the Grafton Correctional Institution Friday, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. He was 50.

WARREN — Timothy Combs, a man serving multiple life sentences for his role in the 1985 murder of 12-year-old Raymond Fife, died while incarcerated, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Combs, 50, died Friday. He was serving his sentence at Grafton Correctional Institution in Lorain County, according to department records.

The department of rehabilitation and correction was not able to identify Combs’ cause of death Wednesday.

Combs was 17 when he and Danny Lee Hill, who was 18 at the time, stopped Fife on Sept. 10, 1985, in a wooded area near Palmyra Road SW, as the boy rode his bike to a Boy Scout meeting. Fife died two days later after he was beaten, sexually tortured, strangled with his underwear, set afire and left for dead. He was barely alive when he was found several hours later by his father and brother-in-law.

In a rare decision, the case was moved from Trumbull County to Portage County because of the outrage and wide media coverage surrounding the case, said Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins. Combs was convicted in 1987 of numerous charges, including aggravated arson, rape, kidnapping and aggravated murder.

Because he was a few months shy of his 18th birthday, Combs was not eligible for the death penalty, as Hill was. Hill’s sentence is in dispute and has not been carried out. Combs was sentenced to multiple, consecutive life sentences.

Miriam Fife, Raymond’s mother, became the first victims’ rights advocate for the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office after her son’s death. She retired in 2015, after 25 years. Her husband, Isaac Fife, was 89 when he died Sept. 11, 2006.

She said Combs’ death does not give her cause to rejoice.

“This is not something that I celebrate. I will be able to rest in peace that he will not be able to get out and do what was done to Raymond to anyone else,” Miriam Fife said.

The Portage County jury was quick to convict Combs, said W. Wyatt McKay, who, with Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Stanley Elkins, prosecuted Combs in Portage County Common Pleas Court. McKay is now a judge in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.

“It took a month to try the case in Ravenna because of the change of venue. There were 100 exhibits, 22 verdict forms. It took most of the day after we argued the case to read the jury instructions, they were quite lengthy,” McKay said. “The jury went out at 4 p.m. and at 4:15 p.m. they rang the buzzer. They had a verdict in 15 minutes.”

McKay said he later spoke to the jury foreman. It took the jury five minutes to elect the foreman. And when the foreman said to the group, “If anyone thinks this S.O.B. is not guilty for any reason, speak,” and no one spoke, McKay said.

And when the foreman asked the other members of the jury the same question again, to be fair to the process, he waited a minute and offered to open the deliberations up for discussion, McKay said.

No one thought Combs was innocent. It took about five more minutes to sign the verdict forms, McKay said.

Hill’s case has been through multiple appeals and requests for new trials and now the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to hear the case at Ohio’s request.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office took hold of the case at Watkins’ request following a ruling earlier this year by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned Hill’s death sentence and ordered him to be resentenced.

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, though in 2002, the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office, after 15 days of trial, won a ruling rejecting the claim Hill was mentally disabled. In various tests conducted before and after Hill was convicted, his IQ has fluctuated below and above the determining threshold of 70, according to court records. He has been accused of trying to fool the test, but also has defended himself pro se, or without the help of an attorney.

The nation’s highest court has held weekly conferences on the case but has not decided whether to take it, according to court records.

“The victims’ family has waited a long time to see the law put into effect for Danny Lee Hill. Combs died in prison with a life sentence. They put themselves in prison. They received the sentences they received because of what they did,” Watkins said.

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