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US high court upholds Danny Lee Hill’s death sentence

Prosecutor to ask Ohio Supreme Court to set up execution

Staff file photo / Guy Vogrin In this photo from September 2020, Miriam Fife sits next to a portrait of her 12-year-old son Raymond Fife, who was fatally beaten and sexually assaulted on Sept. 10, 1985.

WARREN — The U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 to uphold a U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision — a ruling that upholds the death penalty sentence for Danny Lee Hill.

Hill sought to be removed from Ohio’s death row for the 1985 torture-killing of 12-year-old Raymond Fife in a field in Warren. He has been appealing the conviction for more than 30 years.

Hill was 19 at the time of the rape and murder, among other crimes committed upon the boy. It has been argued Hill had diminished mental capacity and was barely literate. Another defendant, Timothy Combs, a juvenile at the time, was ineligible for the death penalty and died in prison in 2018 while serving multiple life sentences.

Miriam Fife, Raymond’s mother, who became a longtime victim / witness advocate for Trumbull County, said she hopes this will be the end of efforts to get Hill out from under the death penalty.

“This gives us assurance something will be done,” Fife said. “Even if they do not execute him, he will remain in prison for the remainder of his life.”

Fife, 82, said the years of uncertainty have been harder on her family members than on herself.

“Over the years, I’ve had family members who have gotten so upset, but because I’ve worked in the court system, I had a better understanding,” she said.

Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said he is pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling, saying this has been a long journey for Trumbull County and the Fife family.

Watkins said Hill’s representatives failed to get an Atkins ruling in their favor. Atkins is based on a 2002 case in Virginia in which Daryl Renard Atkins, who had been convicted of abduction, armed robbery and capital murder, argued death was not a suitable punishment because he was mildly mentally disabled.

The U.S. Supreme Court concluded in the Atkins case there was serious concern whether either justification underpinning the death penalty — retribution and deterrence of capital crimes — applies to mentally retarded offenders, due to their lessened culpability.

Watkins said the Atkins ruling does not apply in Hill’s case, which has been upheld in the highest courts.

“Danny Lee Hill is properly on death row,” Watkins said. “Next week, I will be asking the Ohio Supreme Court for an execution date. I want one that’s sooner rather than later.”

The last execution in Ohio took place in July 2018.

On Dec. 8, 2020, Gov. Mike DeWine placed an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment in the state, citing inability to procure lethal injection execution drugs.

Fife noted Arizona recently executed a person on its death row.

“Why doesn’t the governor call Arizona to get some of its drug mixture?” she questioned.

Watkins complimented the work done by attorney Ben Flowers and his team at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office in arguing against efforts to move Hill from the death penalty.

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