Judge: Trumbull County death row inmate will not get new trial

Danny Lee Hill

WARREN, Ohio (WYTV) – Death row inmate Danny Lee Hill will not get a new trial, according to the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office.

Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove ruled Monday that there will be no new trial.

Hill was 18 in 1986 when he was convicted in the attack, rape and murder of 12-year-old Raymond Fife. Fife was walking through a wooded field in Warren when Hill attacked and killed him.

Hill has been on death row for almost 30 years after being found guilty of aggravated murder, kidnapping, rape, aggravated arson and felonious sexual penetration. He’s been fighting his conviction ever since.

In 2006, Hill claimed to have mental issues which should prevent him from being put to death.

Cosgrove ruled in June that Hill could request a new trial because the court found “clear and convincing evidence” that he was “unavoidably prevented” from filing a motion for a new proceeding within 120 days following his conviction.

In the 1986 trial, there was evidence presented that Hill bit Fife. Now there is new dental forensic guidelines that show the bite mark evidence is unreliable.

Because of that, Hill’s lawyers wanted a new trial, but Judge Cosgrove disagreed.

“I always think that’s wonderful that they’ve ruled on our side,” said Fife’s mother, Miriam Fife.

She’s followed the legal proceedings every step of the way.

“It’s just that these frivolous things that they keep filing, and I don’t understand the law and why it allows this to happen,” Miriam said. “Next thing you know, they’re digging something else up that they can file a motion on and that’s what always gets me, and it’s costing a fortune for our taxpayers.”

Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins issued a statement Monday, saying he was pleased with Cosgrove’s decision. He said in her 34-page decision, Cosgrove said even if she did rule that the bite-mark evidence was unreliable, there was “no probability, much less a strong probability, that a new trial would result in different outcome.”

The decision issued today by Visiting Judge Patricia Cosgrove is one of a litany of opinions from various state and federal courts affirming the fairness of the trial and the justice pronounced by the distinguished three-judge panel in 1986. Also, Judge Cosgrove is the second appointed judge from outside Trumbull County to thoroughly review the record and various complaints made by Hill and to conclude that his clams have no merit,” Watkins said.

Watkins said because the decision will likely be appealed, he will have no further comment.

Cosgrove’s ruling comes on the same day that the State of Ohio announced it would resume executions in January.

Hill’s court dates are not over yet. Monday’s decisions will likely be appealed and a federal appeals court will hear his mental health case on November 30.