Published: Thursday, February 16, 2006
Judge rules Hill not mentally retarded
Danny Lee Hill tried to sabotage his own testing, an expert says.
By TIM YOVICH
WARREN A judge ruled convicted child killer Danny Lee Hill is not mentally retarded, as he contends.
But it will be years, if ever, before he is put to death, those working on the case say.
"We have many, many years to go," Atty. LuWayne Annos, an assistant county prosecutor, said.
Annos, who is fighting Hill's appeals with county Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, characterized the Wednesday ruling of visiting Judge Thomas P. Curran of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court as a "major accomplishment."
Watkins said a final ruling on the mental retardation questions could take two years to resolve in state courts.
How long the federal appeals process will take isn't known, Watkins added.
Atty. Robert Lowe, who has been handling the appeal with Atty. Gregory Myers of the Ohio Public Defender's Office, said Wednesday that it hasn't been determined if the retardation aspect will be appealed to the 11th District Court of Appeals.
Hill, of Warren, was sentenced to death in 1986 at age 19. He was convicted of the 1985 torture and murder of 12-year-old Raymond Fife, who was beaten, raped, impaled, strangled and burned.
In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled execution of the retarded is cruel and unusual punishment, even in past cases.
Judge Curran, of Cuyahoga County, said in his ruling that a diagnosis of mental retardation does not exclude a criminal from conviction and punishment, but does insulate against capital punishment.
In making his finding, the judge used five experts in the mental health field.
Judge Curran noted in his ruling that Hill sabotaged testing procedures.
The opinion is based on a report of Dr. Nancy Huntsman, a clinical psychologist, who wrote that Hill malingered while taking two tests but interviews revealed he could perform "quite nicely."
Four years before the murder, a teacher wrote of Hill, who is now 39: "Danny is a bright, perceptive boy with high reasoning ability. But his defiant attitude and refusal to obey any authority hinders his learning. He is lazy, often verbally abusive, intimidating to other students and will bribe or steal for his own benefit."
Judge Curran pointed to three anecdotal events concerning Hill's self direction.
In March 1984, eight months before the murder, Hill raped a young mother and threatened to rape and cut her baby in the same area where Fife's body was found.
Also that same year near the same location, Hill raped a woman at knifepoint. While in jail, he attempted to have sexual conduct with his cellmate.
"Having committed the murder of Raymond Fife, Danny Lee Hill demonstrated self-direction by presenting himself at the [police] station house in search of a reward" to find the boy's killer, Judge Curran wrote.
"He was able to hold his own during police interrogation of the Fife murder," the judge wrote, noting that he demonstrated cunning by trying to get the reward.
Judge Curran called attention to the observations of one of Hill's death row corrections officers at the Mansfield Correctional Institution.
Officer John Glenn related that Hill never had seizures despite his complaints of them to experts, was not ostracized by fellow inmates, played cards with inmates and was not illiterate.
Death row case manager Greg Morrow noted that Hill can communicate in writing, plays bingo, holds down a prison job, maintains acceptable hygienic standards and doesn't break the rules. He keeps his own commissary account.