Lawyers seek rehearing for 1985 murder | News, Sports, Jobs

WARREN — Less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider convicted murderer Danny Lee Hill’s mental retardation claims, attorneys are seeking a Trumbull County court’s reconsideration of the same constitutional arguments, seeking to rescue Warren’s inmate from Ohio’s death chamber. .

In a 95-page document filed with the Trumbull County Court of Common Pleas dated July 8, federal public defenders on behalf of Hill claimed outdated standards were used in the decision against Hill.

“Applying Ohio’s current standard for assessing intellectual disability, the state’s previous expert witness, Dr. J. Gregory Olley, concluded that Mr. Hill is a person with an intellectual disability,” the attorneys wrote. Stephen Newman and Vickie Werneke in asking the Trumbull court to reconsider the claim that was instituted in a United States Supreme Court decision in the early 2000s in a case named Atkins v. Virginia.

The ruling states that the government cannot put an intellectually disabled man to death.

The Atkins claim was used by Hill’s attorneys, but the courts, including the United States Sixth Complete Circuit, did not buy it. The Supreme Court of the United States, on June 30, by a vote of 6 to 3, refused to hear it.


On Tuesday, Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan approved a request by Attorney Dennis Watkins to appoint Assistant Attorney General Stephen Maher as special counsel in the case. In a letter to the court, Watkins said Maher has worked on the Hill case for more than 20 years and “brings a wealth of experience and knowledge of all aspects of the claims” made by the defense.

He said Attorney General Dave Yost agreed to provide Maher’s services free of charge.

“It is the belief of this office that the Federal Public Defender’s tactic of filing an action in state court will not undermine the soon-to-be-filed motion by this office to set an execution date, nor delay the setting of that date by the Ohio Supreme Court,” Watkins said in a press release.

He said he plans to file a response to the federal public defender’s request soon.

“We strongly believe that this action is completely baseless, legally improper, and undertaken solely to delay the conclusion of the Hill case with Hill’s execution,” Watkins said in the statement.


Now, due to the hearing demand, local court officials will have to ask an outside judge to hear the case. Local judges recused themselves from any appeals by Hill because Hill’s victim’s mother, Raymond Fife, previously worked for Trumbull County’s Victim Witness Advocacy program.

Miram Fife, 82, called the latest legal maneuver “frivolous”.

“They are just trying to delay this. It’s a load of bullshit,” said Fife, who has seen similar calls in the 37 years since Hill was sentenced to death. “It’s disgusting.”

In Adkins’ previous hearings in Trumbull County, Judge Thomas Curran made the rulings. Curran is now deceased.

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

Hill was 19 at the time of the September 1985 rape and murder, among other crimes committed on the boy. It has been argued that Hill had reduced mental capacity and was barely literate. Another defendant, Timothy Combs, a minor at the time, was ineligible for the death penalty and died in prison in 2018 while serving multiple life sentences.

Meanwhile, District Attorney Dennis Watkins, who after last month’s court ruling said he was going to ask the state to set an execution date for Hill, is now asking Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to send him assistance with any legal arguments in possible future Atkins hearings for Hill.

“I seek the assistance of Steven Maher, who has handled 12 post-conviction appeals in Ohio,” Watkins said.

Maher also has 20 years of Hill appeals experience working with Solicitors General Ben Flowers and Eric Murphy when they argued Hill’s Atkins claims in the Ohio Court of Appeals for the 11th District and the Sixth U.S. Circuit.

Watkins said he would not answer any questions about Atkins’ reconsideration because it is ongoing litigation.

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