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Mental status of killer is key to new hearing



Published: Fri, July 15, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The death row prisoner is a good talker and malingerer, the state says.

WARREN -- Ohio death row inmate Danny Lee Hill returns to Warren today as his lawyers and the Trumbull County prosecutor make a final case for or against mental retardation -- and execution.

Hill, of Warren, was sentenced to death in 1986 in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. He's convicted of the 1985 murder of Raymond Fife, 12, who was beaten, raped, impaled, strangled and burned, A co-defendant, Timothy Combs, was a juvenile then and is serving consecutive life terms in prison.

In 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled execution of the retarded is cruel and unusual punishment, applying that standard even to past cases -- leaving it to the states to resolve mental retardation claims.

Hearing the Hill case over several months is a visiting judge, Thomas P. Curran of Cuyahoga County, who is being asked by the prosecution and defense to make a final determination for or against such post-conviction relief. Final arguments will be presented but a ruling is not expected from the bench today.

The judge is being asked by Hill's lawyers to void the death sentence. Hill is at Mansfield Correctional Institution.

School and other records

Hill's public defenders, David Bodiker and Robert Lowe, propose in a written argument that the Supreme Court's ruling fixes the focus of this case on the time of the crime and trial. They say there's plenty of records generated during Hill's "developmental period" (including school records) that he was retarded at that time. They also say Ohio courts reviewing his case have concluded Hill is retarded, including the Ohio Supreme Court.

The defense argues that Judge Curran should not have engaged a psychologist to function independently of those hired by the prosecution and defense. This "impermissibly upset the adversarial nature of these proceedings."

They also say a jury, or a three-judge panel, should have judged Hill's claim for relief.

Hill suffers from "significantly subaverage intellectual functioning" with a true IQ falling under 70, his lawyers say.

Meanwhile, prosecutors Dennis Watkins and LuWayne Annos argue to the court that it's Hill's burden to prove he's retarded to a trial judge -- not a jury. The judge relies on professional evaluations of mental status.

Hill, the prosecution notes, voluntarily came to the Warren Police Department Sept. 12, 1985, "to offer misleading information about Raymond's murder to collect a $5,000 reward posted by the Boy Scouts." This was "blatantly calculated" to turn police attention to someone else, they add.

Clear state of mind

During the hearings before Judge Curran, the prosecution notes, Hill has been present and "has been most interactive."

The court should look at the distinct possibility that Hill malingered or "faked bad" on IQ tests as a teenager, and later. He has "completely sabotaged efforts by this court to formally assess his present adaptive functioning."

Prosecutors note Hill's uncle Morris Hill, a Warren police officer at the time, estimated the department had arrested Hill 15 to 20 times before his 18th birthday. "I would describe his intelligence as far as being fairly intelligent and very street wise, as we would call slick, as far as the street is concerned," Morris Hill testified during the trial.

Prosecutors also note Hill himself testified at a suppression of evidence hearing. "This is somewhat of a rarity in criminal defendants who are decidedly not mentally retarded. Nevertheless, the trial court finds that for a teenager, [Hill] conducted himself rather admirably ..."

Hill has also personally submitted three "friend of the court" submissions to the judge, and has personally addressed the court during proceedings -- able to converse in legalese with seeming relative ease. This, the prosecution says, shows Hill's self-directive nature and ability to communicate.




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