Victim's mother wants to see Hill executed

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Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins and Miriam Fife have worked together to see justice done in the murder of Fife’s son, Raymond, since September 1985, when Raymond, 12, was brutally murdered as he rode his bicycle to a Boy Scouts meeting.

At a news conference Monday, the two explained a Monday U.S. Supreme Court ruling that put the death penalty back on the table for Danny Lee Hill, 51, one of Raymond’s two killers.

Hill’s death-penalty case has dragged on 34 years, one of the longest such cases still pending in Ohio.

If Hill is executed some day, Fife, now 78, says she will “definitely” go there to watch – even if she has to do so in a wheelchair.

Watkins said he’s “not far behind” in age and quipped that he might need the same type of help to witness the execution, if it ever happens.

“I’m not going to be around forever. Let’s get on with it,” Fife said of Hill’s execution.

It’s the first time in Trumbull County history that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a county criminal case, Watkins said.

The top court said the Cincinnati-based U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals erred when it took away the death penalty in February. The court’s error was in considering a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court ruling when it decided that Hill is too intellectually disabled to be executed.

Visiting Judge Thomas P. Curran issued a ruling in 2006 in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court that Hill was not too intellectually disabled to be executed.

Later, a U.S. District Court judge agreed with Judge Curran’s ruling, but a panel of 6th Circuit judges reversed Judge Curran and the district court.

Watkins and Fife both praised the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for appealing the 6th Circuit ruling. Watkins said it was “against all odds” that the U.S. Supreme Court would take up the appeal because the high court accepts less than 1 percent.

But the ruling appears to have been unanimous among all nine justices, and that might bode well for how the 6th Circuit will rule in the next three to six months, Watkins said.

The ruling says the 6th Circuit’s reliance on a 2017 case was “plainly improper ... and we therefore vacate that decision and remand so that Hill’s claim regarding intellectual disability can be evaluated based solely on holdings of this court that were clearly established at the relevent time.”

Hill and co-defendant Timothy Combs killed Raymond by brutally assaulting, raping and setting fire to him in a field off of Palmyra Road in Warren. Combs died last year, apparently from health issues, while in prison.

Miriam Fife said she would be calling two women tonight to talk to them about the ruling. They are two females Hill raped as a juvenile, before her son’s murder.

“I know they will be as ecstatic about this as I am,” she said.

Watkins said there is one death row case in Ohio that has been pending longer than Hill’s case, which is evidence that there needs to be limits placed on how long appeals in death row cases can continue.

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