Convicted sadistic murder- er Danny Lee Hill should have met his maker years ago, but the fact that he’s still alive today highlights the flaws in the criminal justice system.
Those flaws were brought to light Friday when a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Hill should not be put to death for the 1985 brutal slaying of 12-year-old Raymond Fife of Warren.
Hill, then 18, and Timothy Combs, then 17, attacked Raymond on Sept. 10, 1985, in a field off Palmyra Road in Warren. The child was beaten and kicked, his pleas for mercy were ignored, he was sexually assaulted multiple times, he was choked, brutalized with a stick, had lighter fluid poured on him and set afire and was left for dead.
Raymond was found unconscious by his father, Isaac, who went looking for him when he failed to arrive at a Boy Scouts meeting.
Raymond Fife died two days later in St. Joseph Riverside Hospital without regaining consciousness.
Three judges of the Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, David F. McLain, Robert A. Nader and Mitchell F. Shaker found Hill guilty of aggravated murder with four death-penalty specifications and four additional counts of kidnapping, rape, aggravated arson and felonious sexual penetration.
The judges sentenced Hill to death and set the execution date for Feb. 28, 1987.
Since then, Hill has used every trick in the criminal justice book to avoid the executioner.
Combs was sentenced to prison on multiple counts and will first be eligible for parole when he is 82 years old.
Hill and a succession of lawyers have managed to slow the wheels of justice through a succession of appeals that have been rejected by the Ohio Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of the United States.
It is of some comfort that the three judges of the 6th Circuit court affirmed Hill’s conviction, but they are wrong in their reversal of the decision issued by U.S. District Court Judge John Adams of Akron that the sentence of death is warranted.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, who has been unwavering in his demand for the ultimate punishment, has asked Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to seek a review of the ruling by all 16 judges of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
There are facts in this case that are pertinent to the question of whether Hill was too intellectually disabled to understand the extent of his crime.
The judges of the 6th Circuit should review the police reports that show Hill became a suspect after he went to the Warren Police Department saying he had information about the murder and asking about a $5,000 reward.
They should also consider Hill’s actions after the brutal murder, including the fact that he washed his bloody clothes.
Finally, the judges would want to review the report from a schoolteacher who said Hill was a difficult student but not intellectually deficient.
As for his IQ score of between 48 and 71 that would meet the clinical definition of such deficiency, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should explore if such a test can be manipulated.
During a recorded interview with detectives, Hill admitted to being at the site of the crime throughout the attacks. He described the assaults in detail but attributed all of the brutality to Combs. He said he didn’t leave or attempt to get help for Raymond because he was afraid Combs’ mother would go to police and blame Hill.
Despite their ages, Hill and Combs both had records for serious sexual assaults. Combs had been convicted of gross sexual imposition on another boy. Hill had raped two women at knifepoint and while in juvenile custody molested a boy. The criminal justice system has been pushed to the limits in the Raymond Fife case, and the sadistic killer has been given every chance to present so-called new evidence and new theories.
At some point, the courts must put an end to the delaying tactics. That point is now.
Ohio Attorney General DeWine, working closely with Trumbull County Prosecutor Watkins, should impress upon the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that there is compelling evidence not only of Hill’s guilt, but also of how he manipulated the system to avoid execution.