Prosecutor slams bid to remove judge
The prosecutor's office called some of the public defender's assertions 'ludicrous.'
By ED RUNYAN
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- The prosecution says the public defender's request for the judge to remove himself from Danny Lee Hill's death penalty appeal is frivolous and an attempt to delay the court's decision.
The Trumbull County Prosecutor's Office filed a response Thursday to a motion filed last week by the Ohio Public Defender's Office in Columbus. The public defender represents Hill, of Warren, 38, who is on Ohio's Death Row.
Hill's lawyers said Judge Thomas Patrick Curran has acquired "extrajudicial knowledge of facts" important to Hill's case by presiding over a dispute involving Douglas Darnall's license to practice psychology. Darnall had also given an opinion on the mental status of Hill during the course of death penalty appeal.
In April, the Ohio Board of Psychology had found Darnall in violation of various standards governing that profession and suspended his license for two years. Judge Curran issued a ruling in August that the case involving Darnall's license be reversed and returned to the psychology board in accordance with a settlement agreement.
Hill was sentenced to death in 1986, convicted in common pleas court of the 1985 murder of Raymond Fife, 12, who was raped and tortured. A co-defendant, Timothy Combs, was a juvenile then and is serving consecutive life terms in prison. Hill is at Mansfield Correctional Institution.
Curran, a visiting judge from Cuyahoga County, has been hearing legal arguments on whether Hill should be given relief from his death sentence based on a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that execution of the retarded is cruel and unusual punishment.
The prosecutor's office said Judge Curran's handling of Darnall's licensing dispute has no bearing on his ability to render a decision in the Hill case. That's because Judge Curran did not acquire "extrajudicial knowledge" because of the Darnall case.
"Dr. Darnall's own attorney states that this court's official involvement in his case was confined to authorizing an agreed judgment entry between the parties," the response says.
Atty. James Fredericka stated in an affidavit that Judge Curran "never even met his client, Dr. Darnall, and certainly never discussed the merits of the case."
"To suggest for one moment that a judge is permanently unable to assess a witness's credibility because that same witness is a party in another, unrelated, case to which the judge is assigned, is positively ludicrous," the response said.
Ohio law is clear: "A judge need not recuse himself simply because he acquired knowledge of the facts during a prior proceeding," it states.