Trumbull prosecutor seeks appeal to U.S. Supreme Court of Danny Lee Hill decision

By Ed Runyan


The judges from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati have refused to hear an appeal of a ruling calling for the removal of the death penalty for killer Danny Lee Hill.

The ruling leaves open the possibility a Trumbull County judge will be ordered to resentence Hill, 51, to a life prison sentence instead of the death penalty he received in 1986 for the 1985 killing of Raymond Fife, 12, in a field off Palmyra Road Southwest.

County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins wrote to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Monday asking his staff to appeal the 6th Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Watkins said the attorney general’s office’s track record of successfully appealing such cases and winning reversals of 6th Circuit decisions “merits one last appeal.”

He said, “Ohio has nothing to lose and everything to gain with an appeal to the ... Supreme Court in the next 90 days.”

On Feb. 2, a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit reversed the decision of Judge John Adams, an Akron-based federal judge, who affirmed Hill’s death sentence.

The federal appellate panel said Hill is too intellectually disabled to be executed under a 2002 Supreme Court ruling saying that execution of mentally disabled criminals violates the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In his letter to DeWine, Watkins said he believes the appellate court has not given “proper deference ... to the many Ohio court decisions affirming that Danny Hill was not mentally retarded and thus subject to the death penalty.”

The 6th Circuit’s ruling Feb. 2 said Ohio courts have unreasonably applied the U.S. Supreme Court’s three-part standard for determining intellectual disability. All three parts must be present for someone to be declared too disabled for the death penalty.

The 6th Circuit said there is agreement Hill’s IQ score of between 48 and 71 means he “easily meets the first element of the clinical definition of intellectual disability.”

The federal appellate court also thinks Hill meets the definition of intellectual disability on the two other measurements – adaptive abilities and whether his deficits manifested themselves before he turned 18. Earlier judges disagreed Hill was intellectually disabled in the last two areas.

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