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WARREN — Less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider mental retardation claims for convicted murderer Danny Lee Hill, attorneys have filed for reconsideration by a Trumbull County court of the same constitutional arguments, seeking to save the Warren inmate from Ohio’s death chamber.

In a 95-page document filed with Trumbull County Common Pleas Court and dated July 8, federal public defenders on behalf of Hill claimed outdated standards were used in ruling against Hill.

“Applying Ohio’s current standard for assessing intellectual disability, the state’s prior expert witness, Dr. J. Gregory Olley concluded that Mr. Hill is a person with intellectual disability,” attorneys Stephen Newman and Vickie Werneke wrote in asking the Trumbull court to reconsider the claim that was instituted in an early 2000s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case named Atkins vs. Virginia.

The ruling states the government cannot put to death an intellectually disabled man.

The Atkins claim has been used by Hill’s attorneys but courts, including the full Sixth Circuit of the United States, weren’t buying it. The U.S. Supreme Court on June 30 by a 6-3 vote refused to hear it.


On Tuesday, Trumbull County Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan approved a request by Prosecutor Dennis Watkins to appoint Assistant Attorney General Stephen Maher as special prosecutor in the case. In a letter to the court, Watkins said Maher has worked on the Hill case for more than 20 years and he “offers great experience and knowledge of all aspects of the claims” made by the defense.

He said Attorney General Dave Yost has agreed to provide Maher’s services for free.

“It is this office’s belief that the Federal Public Defender’s tactic of filing a state action, in a state court, will not undermine this office’s soon-to-be filed motion to set an execution date, or delay the setting of that date by the Ohio Supreme Court,” Watkins states in a news release.

He said he plans to file an answer to the federal public defender’s request shortly.

“It is our firm belief that this action is totally meritless, legally inappropriate, and undertaken solely to delay Hill’s case going forward to conclusion with Hill’s execution,” Watkins states in the release.


Now, because of the request for a hearing, local court officials will have to petition an outside judge to hear the matter. Local judges have recused themselves of any Hill appeal because the mother of Hill’s victim, Raymond Fife, formerly worked for Trumbull County’s Victim Witness Advocacy program.

Miram Fife, 82, called the latest legal maneuver “frivolous.”

“They are just trying to delay this. This is a bunch of crap,” said Fife, who has seen similar appeals in the 37 years since Hill was sentenced to death. “It is disgusting.”

In previous Atkins hearings in Trumbull County, Judge Thomas Curran made the rulings. Curran is now deceased.

Hill sought to be removed from Ohio’s death row for the 1985 torture-killing of 12-year-old Raymond in a field in Warren. He has been appealing the conviction for more than 30 years.

Hill was 19 at the time of the September 1985 rape and murder, among other crimes committed upon the boy. It has been argued Hill had diminished mental capacity and was barely literate. Another defendant, Timothy Combs, a juvenile at the time, was ineligible for the death penalty and died in prison in 2018 while serving multiple life sentences.

Watkins said he will not answer any questions about the Atkins reconsideration because it is pending litigation.

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