WARREN — As a local court prepares for hearings to reconsider the mental retardation claims of convicted murderer Danny Lee Hill, attorneys for both sides are trading motions at the federal appeals court.
Over a two-day period last week, federal public defenders and a special prosecutor assigned by the Ohio Attorney General to Hill’s reconsideration request asked the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit States certain decisions ahead of upcoming hearings in Trumbull County.
In various legal maneuvers, Hill sought removal from Ohio’s death row for the sentence he received in 1986 after being found guilty by a three-judge panel for his role in the torture murder. of 12-year-old Raymond Fife in 1985. field in southwest Warren. He has been appealing the conviction for more than 30 years.
First, public defenders Vicki Ruth Adams Werneke and Stephen Newman asked federal attorneys to grant them permission to proceed with the litigation in the local Common Pleas Court.
On July 8, the two public defenders had asked the local court to allow a reconsideration hearing because they claimed outdated standards had been used by a former visiting judge in a decision against Hill in the mental retardation allegation. .
“In continuing this new litigation of his Eighth Amendment claim, Mr. Hill now asks this court to extend his previous order granting leave,” the attorneys wrote to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on July 15. on behalf of Hill. “Mr. Hill is therefore seeking to return to the courts of Ohio to plead his intellectual disability under the new Moore/Ford standard.
Here, the lawyers cite a 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Texas case and a 2019 Ohio Supreme Court decision. These decisions downplay the use of “profane stereotypes” when assessment of a person’s mental disability.
Arguing that they should be the attorneys to represent Hill, Newman and Werneke said “there are no real options for Mr. Hill to be represented in state court” and said that they are the most qualified because they know the procedural history of the case. .
Hill was 19 at the time of the September 1985 rape and murder, among other crimes, of young Raymond, who was attacked while on his way to meet a friend for a Boy Scout meeting.
It has been argued that Hill had reduced mental capacity and was barely literate.
Another defendant, Timothy Combs, a minor at the time, was ineligible for the death penalty and died in prison in 2018 while serving multiple life sentences.
Meanwhile, Special Prosecutor Stephen Maher has filed a motion to object with the Sixth Circuit. In his July 17 filing, Maher says the court should forward the public defenders’ request to represent Hill to Ohio’s Northern District Court in Cleveland.
“This court is in a better position to rule on the merits of Hill’s motion regarding his request for an attorney to represent him in other state proceedings.” Maher writes.
Maher also said the request for reconsideration came less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review Hill’s mental retardation claims. Maher noted that defense attorneys in their Sixth Circuit petition did not mention this setback.
Maher said the denial should disqualify both Werneke and Newman, under a 2011 ruling by the Sixth Circuit.
“Once the habeas case is over, the appointment of a federal habeas attorney to sue again in state court is prohibited,” Maher said, noting that the 2011 ruling should apply. in the Hill case.
Habeas corpus is a fundamental right in the Constitution that protects against unlawful and indefinite imprisonment.
Public defenders are asking a court in Trumbull to reconsider the lawsuit that was instituted in the early 2000s by a US Supreme Court decision in a case named Atkins v. Virginia. The ruling states that the government cannot put an intellectually disabled man to death.
The Atkins claim has been used before by these same Hill lawyers, but the courts, including the Sixth Complete Circuit of the United States, have rejected it. The United States Supreme Court on June 30 by a vote of 6 to 3 refused to hear it.
Since that decision, District Attorney Dennis Watkins has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to set an execution date for Hill.
In previous Atkins hearings in Trumbull County, Visiting Judge Thomas Curran made the rulings. Curran is now deceased. Local judges recused themselves from Hill’s case because Hill’s victim’s mother, Miriam Fife, had worked for the prosecutor’s victim/witness advocacy office.
So far, the Ohio Supreme Court has not decided to appoint a new judge to hear Hill’s reconsideration requests in local court.