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Danny Lee Hill’s case receives hit from state AGs

Brief argues appeals court should uphold killer’s death sentence

WARREN — Convicted Warren killer Danny Lee Hill’s fight for his life has hit a speed bump in the form of a multi-state friend-of-the court brief sent in advance of his Dec. 2 hearing before the full 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Hill, who has been convicted in the 1985 torture and death of 12-year-old Raymond Fife in southwest Warren, is hoping that oral arguments before the full court on Dec. 2 will keep him from the death chamber.

But the brief, written by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slattery III, was sent recently to the Sixth Circuit on behalf of Slattery’s state as well as Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas. It was undersigned by the attorneys general of the 11 other states.

“The states … respectfully submit this brief as amici curiae in support of the warden (the appellee in Hill’s case),” Slattery writes to begin his brief. “Amici states have a strong interest in enforcing criminal judgments.”

An amicus curiae is someone who is not a party to a case who offers information, expertise or insight that has a bearing on the issues in the case.

The decision on whether to consider this particular amicus brief lies within the discretion of the Sixth Circuit, legal experts say.

Slattery noted the states also have interest in securing justice and closure for crime victims as well as “exercising sovereign authority over their respective criminal justice systems.”

Hill’s lawyers often cite a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled mentally handicapped people cannot be executed. Various hearings over the issue had established that Hill’s IQ is hovering around the 70 mark, which is the borderline measure for mental handicap.

However, Slattery in his brief uses a 2011 case to argue: “Federal courts are in no position to tell state courts that they misapplied state law, let alone that their application of state law was wrong beyond any possibility for fair-minded disagreement.”

A lawyer in the Ohio Attorney General’s office has called this event in Cincinnati the “biggest legal show in town.”

Arguing the case for the government will be state Solicitor General Ben Flowers, whom legal experts say has a brilliant young legal mind and trained as a legal clerk for late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Flowers declined to comment on the case.

Legal experts believe after the oral arguments the 6th Circuit will move “lightning quick” to get a decision, probably in April or May 2021.

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