POST-CONVICTION RELIEF Convict is removed; hearings proceed
WARREN -- Convicted killer Danny Lee Hill listened from behind a guarded doorway to lawyers debating a life or death issue, because he couldn't behave in court and doesn't like his lawyer.
Judge Thomas P. Curran of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court wanted to keep Hill seated in the courtroom as his defense and the prosecution laid out final arguments for or against a mental retardation ruling that could spare him the death penalty.
"This is not new to you," said the judge, who had ordered Hill be brought from Mansfield Correctional Institution. Judge Curran noted such proceedings have gone on for two years. "This is a wrap-up; this is the finale, the end game."
But Hill replied that he wouldn't behave, even for half an hour, so long as he is represented by Gregory W. Meyers, senior assistant public defender. Hill said he had no idea why Meyers had him brought to court Friday, saying he had not been kept informed.
Meyers said he'd mailed Hill case documents and added that it was against his advice that Hill addressed the court directly.
"I don't want him arguing my case," Hill said, asking for a delay. "I haven't talked to him for I don't know how long."
At that point the judge asked deputies to put Hill in a room off of the courtroom, door opened, and the case proceeded.
Hill has grown into middle age in the state's custody, no longer an 18-year-old on trial for aggravated murder -- but a bearded and graying man biding time on Death Row. He was chained and padlocked at the hands, feet and waist and could only shuffle.
Hill is 38. Raymond Fife, the 12-year-old Hill and another youth tortured and killed, would have been 32.
This case could last a lot longer: Judge Curran of Cuyahoga County is sitting by assignment. His ruling on whether Hill should get "post conviction relief" will come after a review of the arguments before him, previous expert testimony, and rulings by other courts.
Even then, the debate can continue. Further levels of appeal include the 11th District Court of Appeals, Ohio Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Prosecutor Dennis Watkins railed against Hill's demeanor Friday and stressed the sole focus of the proceeding should not be on the defendant's rights.
"His cat and mouse game is a part of his whole fabric of obstruction, in my opinion. The idea of he doesn't know what's going on is ridiculous," Watkins said. "We're forgetting about justice, and I think we should end this."
Hill, of Warren, was sentenced to death in 1986. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled execution of the mentally retarded is cruel and unusual punishment, applying that standard even to past cases -- leaving it to the states to resolve mental retardation claims.
Hill's lawyers say he suffers from "significantly subaverage intellectual functioning."
Prosecutors Watkins and LuWayne Annos say the court should look at the distinct possibility that Hill malingered or "faked bad" on IQ tests as a teenager and later.
Raymond Fife was beaten, raped, impaled, strangled and burned. A co-defendant, Timothy Combs, was a juvenile then and is serving consecutive life terms in prison.
Fife's mother Miriam was in court Friday.
Meyers said the "horrible" facts of the crime are not relative to the claim for post-conviction relief.