AG asks for full court re-hearing of Danny Lee Hill case
WARREN — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is asking U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for a full court re-hearing of Danny Lee Hill’s death penalty case.
Hill was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of 12-year-old Raymond Fife in 1985.
The federal Sixth Circuit earlier this month again ruled that Ohio can’t execute Hill, who has maintained that he is intellectually disabled.
A three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal last week ruled that executing Hill would be unconstitutional under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. That opinion recounted the multiple records demonstrating Hill’s mental struggles, including with even basic daily responsibilities.
The Sixth Circuit also ruled in February 2018 that Hill shouldn’t be executed.
After the state appealed, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that the Sixth Circuit should reconsider the case because it had relied extensively on a case decided long after Hill was sentenced to death.
The attorney general’s office now claimed the three-judge panel erred and that the full court should re-hear the matter.
In a document filed Thursday, Yost’s staff argues that the panel “did exactly what the Supreme Court told it not to do: rather than relying on legal rules that were clearly established” by Supreme Court decisions “at the relevant time,” the panel awarded relief based on principles supposedly established by state-court decisions — “principles that relevant Supreme Court precedent did not establish, clearly or otherwise.”
The AG seeks an “en banc: re-hearing.”
That term means a case is heard before all the judges rather than by one judge or a panel of judges selected from them. En banc review often is used for unusually complex cases or cases considered to be of greater importance.
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to grant Hill a new trial.
“If the state is forced to go to the Supreme Court, it will likely win summary reversal. But there is no way to be sure; the Supreme Court, for many reasons, sometimes fails to act. The stakes are too high to risk inaction,” Yost’s staff argues in the latest filing.
Raymond’s mother, Miriam Fife, 80, said previously she was sure the attorney general’s office would appeal. “I am hoping we can mutually make our point and win this case,” she said.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said last week: “This court just made a bad decision.”
On Thursday, Watkins said he was pleased the state attorneys made the move before he wrote a letter asking them to.
Hill’s co-defendant, Timothy Combs, died in prison at age 50 in 2018 while serving a life sentence. Combs was 17 when he and Hill, who was 18 at the time, stopped Raymond on Sept. 10, 1985, in a wooded area near Palmyra Road SW, as the boy rode his bike to a Boy Scouts meeting. Raymond 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.
Because he was a few months shy of his 18th birthday, Combs was not eligible for the death penalty, as Hill was.