Wednesday, June 15, 2016
By Ed Runyan
Attorneys for Danny Lee Hill have asked in a 419-page document for a hearing where witnesses and evidence can be presented to dispute evidence presented at his 1986 trial – including testimony about bite marks found on his 12-year-old victim’s body.
The document asks Visiting Judge Patricia A. Cosgrove to grant a new trial for Hill, who is on death row in the murder, which is widely viewed as the most horrific crime in Trumbull County history.
Attorneys Sarah Kostick and Vicki Ruth Adams Warneke filed their motion for a new trial Monday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court after Judge Cosgrove’s ruling a week ago that granted permission for them to do so.
Hill, 49, was convicted of murder, arson, kidnapping and rape in a 1986 trial in the brutal torture and killing of Raymond Fife, 12, in a wooded area along Palmyra Road while Raymond was riding his bicycle to a Boy Scouts meeting Sept. 10, 1985.
A co-defendant, Timothy Combs, was 17 at the time of the murder and was sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility in 2049.
The filing says Dr. Curtis Mertz, a dentist and oral surgeon who testified at Hill’s trial regarding the bite marks found on Raymond’s penis, later recanted his testimony privately to a colleague, Dr. Franklin Wright, one of Hill’s expert witnesses.
The filing says one of the reasons Hill should be retried is that the opinion Dr. Mertz expressed at trial – that it’s possible to identify the person who left the bite marks, and that person was Hill – has been refuted over the past decade.
Prosecutors indicated in closing arguments that Dr. Mertz’s testimony was “especially significant,” Hill’s attorneys said. The filing also cites a Feb. 1, 1986, Vindicator news story that referred to remarks about the bite marks during the trial as “key testimony.”
The filing refutes not only the bite-mark evidence, but also calls Hill’s confession to being present during Raymond’s attack coerced. Hill, at age 18 and having a low IQ, was susceptible to making a false confession, the filing says.
The filing says eliminating the bite-mark evidence and confession remove all ties between Hill and Raymond’s murder. The “new facts and opinions ... are powerful proof of Mr. Hill’s actual innocence,” the filing says.
Conversely, LuWayne Annos, assistant Trumbull County prosecutor, repeatedly has said that the bite-mark evidence was not essential to obtaining a guilty verdict in the case because of the existence of Hill’s confession, an eyewitness account of Hill possessing a stick thought to have been used to assault Raymond and a witness’s testimony regarding Hill washing out bloody clothes.
Annos said the prosecutor’s office will file a formal response to the request for a new trial at a later date.
Hill’s request for a new trial contains 52 pages of argument, followed by hundreds of pages of written statements from expert witnesses, documents listing their credentials, research papers cited by the attorneys and a transcript of Hill’s interviews with Warren police.
Judge Cosgrove has scheduled a conference call at 1 p.m. June 21 to begin to discuss how the case will proceed.