High court ruling keeps Danny Hill eligible for death penalty
WARREN — The Ohio Supreme Court has refused to review a decision by a visiting common pleas court judge who has ruled that Danny Lee Hill is eligible for the death penalty.
The top court said Wednesday in a 5-2 vote that it agreed with Judge Thomas P. Curran of Cuyahoga County, sitting on assignment in Trumbull County, that Hill is not mentally retarded.
That decision exhausts Hill’s state appeals and sends Hill’s case back to the federal court system, said LuWayne Annos, an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor.
Hill’s appeal of his death sentence was at the federal court level when the U.S. Supreme Court said in 2002 that it is inhumane to execute the mentally retarded. That sent Hill’s case back to Trumbull County for a determination of whether he is retarded.
Hill, 42, of Warren, was sentenced to death in 1986 at age 19 for the 1985 torture and murder of Raymond Fife, 12, who was beaten, raped, impaled, strangled and burned.
Post by thinkinkmesa on Oct 14, 2009 21:02:37 GMT -5
Hill still appealing, back in federal court
Although he was Trumbull County's first inmate among the current prisoners on Ohio's death row, Danny Lee Hill most likely will not be the next local condemned killer to face execution.
Less than two months has passed since the execution of Jason Getsy - originally one of 10 Trumbull death row inmates and the first to be put to death.
Although Hill has languished on death row since 1986, Trumbull County prosecutors already have been given informal indications from state officials that death row killers Roderick Davie and Stanley Adams, both of Warren, could be next in line to die.
While Davie and Adams have exhausted most of their appeal issues, Hill still remains in two appellate battles - a continuous claim that he's mentally retarded and resuming another claim that he was coerced into giving a confession to Warren police detectives.
More than four years ago, Hill filed what's known as an Atkins claim, which puts the burden of proof on the inmate to prove they are mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for execution under a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. That ruling held it was cruel and unusual punishment to execute a mentally retarded killer.
The filing touched off a lengthy court battle involving three mental health experts, two of whom determined Hill was not mentally retarded.
Hill was found to be not mentally retarded and fit for execution - a decision that was affirmed in the 11th District Court of Appeals and the case was turned down by the Ohio Supreme Court.
But Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor LuWayne Annos said that her office, along with the Ohio Attorney General's capital crimes division and the Trumbull Clerk of Courts Office, are compiling a complete record of testimony in Hill's Atkins claim for an anticipated appeal that would go to a federal district court.
Besides that move, a motion by Hill's latest team of attorneys has been filed with the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to resume the coercion claim that Annos says has been ''litigated and re-litigated till the cows come home.''
Constitutional rights and the role of Hill's uncle, former Warren Detective Morris Hill, cleared legal hurdles at the original suppression hearing prior to trial, as well as in the 11th District Court of Appeals, the Ohio Supreme Court and a federal district court.
Attorney Steve Maher, with the capital crimes division of the state Attorney General's Office, declined to discuss details of Hill's appeal.
But Trumbull Prosecutor Dennis Watkins has repeatedly called the coercion claim ''outrageous,'' saying Morris Hill was more in a position to protect his nephew's rights.
Still, a federal judge summarized the exchange between uncle and nephew as:
''Danny Hill first came to the attention of police when he inquired about a reward offered for information on Raymond Fife's death. Questioned twice, he consistently denied any involvement in the killing.
''Then his uncle was assigned to the case. After being brought to the station again and left alone with his uncle for a few minutes, Danny Hill made an abrupt about-face and confessed to involvement in the crime.
''In evaluating these events, Danny Hill's previous interactions with his uncle are important. Twice before, when Hill was in police custody, his uncle struck him when he refused to talk.
''Even accepting his uncle's version of events, in which Detective Hill simply told Danny Hill he believed he was involved in the killing, this episode raises a serious question of coercion. That any officer had struck a suspect is troubling; of special concern here is that Danny Hill was struck by an officer who was also a close family member.''