SCOTUS asked to consider decades old capital murder trial of Dan - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

SCOTUS asked to consider decades old capital murder trial of Danny Lee Hill

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -

Amidst the unrest and potential upheaval with an expected decision on the vacant Supreme Court Justice seat, the court is being asked to weigh in on a decades-old, brutal murder case in Trumbull County. 

The Ohio Attorney General's Office filed a formal petition this week, asking that the Supreme Court of the United States intervene in the capital murder case against Danny Lee Hill. Hill was convicted of torturing, raping, and murdering 12-year-old Raymond Fife in 1985. 

The Attorney General's filing asks the nation's highest court to either hear the case or overturn a previous decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

In that February decision, the appellate court upheld Hill's conviction for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Raymond Fife, but also found that Hill demonstrates several of the prerequisites to be considered mentally deficient.

According to that ruling, Hill's IQ varies between a low of 48 and a high of 71.

After review of videotapes of Danny Lee Hill's interrogation, the court found Hill to be "childlike, confused, often irrational, and primarily self -defeating".

Attorneys for the state argue in their petition that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals based their decision on case law from 2014 and 2017, which could not be applied retroactively to the case. 

A previous U.S. Supreme Court decision found that persons with diminished capacity are not subject to the death penalty.

Hill's case has been sent back to the lower court for re-sentencing.

In addition, prosecutors argue that the Sixth Circuit has a history of decisions that go against federal law. The state's petition cites half a dozen cases in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned decisions by the appellate court. 

Following a denial by the Sixth Circuit to rehear the case, Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins sent a letter to the Ohio Attorney General's Office asking them to take the case either. 

"The bottom line is that Ohio has nothing to lose and everything to gain with an appeal," wrote Watkins, who adds that federal courts have not adequately considered the "many Ohio court decisions affirming that Danny Hill was not mentally retarded..."

In a response to the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court Prosecutor Watkins issued a statement saying: 

"The Trumbull County Prosecutor's Office appreciates the fine work done by Attorney General Mike DeWine's Office, especially State Solicitor Eric Murphy and staff, who have tirelessly over the past few months put together a compelling petition. In my opinion, this petition requires the Supreme Court of the United States to not only review this case, but to reverse the Sixth Circuit and uphold the federal law on the issues involved and the many court decisions, spanning over thirty years, affirming the fairness and sentence Danny Lee Hill received from the people of the State of Ohio." 

According to court records, on September 10, 1985, Raymond Fife's father found his son burned, naked and beaten in a wooded field behind the Valu-King supermarket on Palmyra Road in Warren.

The boy's underwear was found tied around his neck and appeared to have been lit on fire.

He died in the hospital two days later.

The coroner testified during the trial that Fife had been choked and burned. There was damage to Fife's rectal-bladder area and bite marks on his penis.

Three Warren Western Reserve High School students testified that Hill and Timothy Combs were in the area of the Valu-King and the bike trails on the evening Raymond Fife was assaulted. One of the students had also seen Fife riding his bike in the store parking lot.

A student who said he saw Combs on the trail also said he heard a child's scream. Another student says he saw Combs pulling up the zipper of his blue jeans.

Two days after Fife was found, Hill, who was 18-years-old at the time, went to the Warren Police Station to inquire about a $5,000 reward that was being offered for information concerning the murder.

Eventually, police say Hill admitted on audio and videotape that he was present during the beating and sexual assault of Fife, but that Combs did everything to the victim.

Combs was eventually convicted of felonious sexual penetration, arson, rape, kidnapping and aggravated murder.

Since Combs was 17-years-old at the time of the crime, he was not eligible for the death penalty and is serving a life sentence. He will be eligible for his first parole hearing in 2049.

Hill was convicted on the same charges, but since he was 18-years-old at the time Fife was assaulted, he was sentenced to death.

The Supreme Court can now choose to order the lower courts to forward all case information to them, can reverse the Sixth Circuit's decision meaning Hill would face execution again or abstain from the case. 

Several years ago the U.S. Supreme ruled in a similar case involving 33-year-old Sean Carter who was convicted of raping and murdering his adoptive grandmother in 1997. 

In that case, the federal court ruled that the death-row inmate could not indefinitely prevent his execution based on the claim that he was mentally incompetent. 
 

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