The death penalty case of a Warren man convicted of murdering a 12-year-old boy nearly 40 years ago has been sent back to Trumbull County Common Pleas Court for what is known as an "Atkins hearing."

According to the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, an Atkins hearing is an “evidentiary hearing to determine whether the defendant is intellectually disabled.”

According to an opinion from the Ohio 11th District Court of Appeals, a previous petition for postconviction relief for Danny Lee Hill of Warren was denied. The appellate court is now asking for a motion to seek relief from judgement or a second postconviction relief petition.

Hill has been convicted of the 1985 sexual attack and murder of 12-year-old Raymond Fife as he was headed to a Boy Scout meeting. Before that, he was convicted as a juvenile offender for two separate rapes against women.

Prosecutors say he was released from his sentence for those crimes about one month before the murder of Fife.

According to the appellate court opinion, the trial court had erred in concluding that Hill did not meet the requirements for a second postconviction relief petition.

Danny Lee Hill


However, a separate press release from Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins expresses disagreement with this opinion.

"This office believes that the well-reasoned 13-page opinion, rendered by visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove is legally sound," Watkins said.

According to the opinion, Hill has an intellectual disability, but at the time of his sentencing, no laws were in place protecting those with intellectual disabilities from the death penalty. 

It wasn't until the 2002 case of Virginia vs. Atkins that it was ruled that the Eighth Amendment would bar those with intellectual disabilities from being sentenced to death.

However, according to the prosecutor's office, Hill's claimed intellectual disability has been examined and reexamined by the trial court in several post-conviction petitions and motions for a new trial, and his behavior was also examined by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

"After over 37 years of litigation including nearly 30 appeals, all issues have been considered many times by every available court in this country including on written decision by the United States Supreme Court and ultimately found to be meritless," Watkins said.

Watkins says he's hopeful that Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and the Solicitor General's Office will consider filing a "friend of the court" brief in support of the Prosecutor's Office's appeal to this decision.