At least 21 inmates claim mental retardation

By JOHN McCARTHY, Associated Press Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled correctly when it said the execution of mentally retarded inmates was unconstitutional, but it didn't clarify the guidelines for determining which inmates should be spared, a murder victim's mother says.
The court said that an inmate's IQ could be considered a factor in determining retardation. Mental health experts generally believe that a person with an IQ under 70 should be considered mentally retarded.
Danny Lee Hill's IQ has been measured as low as 54 and as high as 70, his lawyers say. Hill was convicted in the 1985 murder of 12-year-old Raymond Fife of Warren, who was raped, choked and burned in the face with lighter fluid, the Ohio attorney general's office said.
The Supreme Court left up to the states the method of determining retardation.
Raymond's mother, Miriam Fife, said that was a mistake.
"I think the United States Supreme Court made a bad decision when they made that cutoff at 70," she said Tuesday. "They should have given some better guidelines for the courts to go by."
Hill was one of at least 21 Ohio inmates who filed appeals to prohibit their execution because they claim mental retardation.
Monday was the deadline for filing the claim under the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The court, in the case known as Atkins v. Virginia, said the execution of mentally retarded inmates is cruel and unusual punishment under the U.S. Constitution.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in December that a person with an IQ of 70 or above should not claim mental retardation. While the IQ test is important, it should not be the only factor in determining retardation, the Ohio court said.
The court adopted the three-pronged definition of mental retardation used in the Atkins case: significantly sub-average intellectual functioning, significant limitations in two or more day-to-day skills and an onset of mental retardation before age 18.
Also, the court said that a trial judge -- not a jury -- will determine whether a person is mentally retarded.
A Trumbull County court is conducting a hearing to determine whether Hill is mentally retarded. Fife, who acts as an advocate for crime victims, agrees that mentally retarded inmates should not be executed but does not include Hill among their number.
"I know Danny Hill never had an incentive to learn," Fife said. "I don't think necessarily, by heritage, he is mentally retarded. ... He's perfectly capable of learning what he wants to. He learned everything on the street very well."
Ohio Public Defender David Bodiker, whose office represents most death row inmates, said Hill clearly fits the definition, even though his IQ scores have measured between 54 and 70. It's difficult to collect definitive data in the tests, he said.
"We have found some real problems in that the numbers tend to be all over the board," Bodiker said. "They (prosecutors) are arguing assiduously that Danny Hill is not retarded."
James V. Canepa, chief deputy of criminal justice for Attorney General Jim Petro, said some of the claims that were filed likely were intended to put off the inmate's execution.
"It would be illegal and immoral to execute someone who is truly mentally retarded. The number of mental retardation claims being filed should not be confused with the legitimacy of those claims," he said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)