Retarded Death Row Inmate Wants To Stop Appeal

CLEVELAND (AP) - A mentally deficient death row inmate wants to stop an appeal because his attorneys are focusing on his mental capacity rather than trying to prove his innocence, The Plain Dealer reported Tuesday.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month banned the execution of mentally retarded criminals, ruling that such executions violate constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

Court records show Danny Lee Hill's death sentence could be overturned under the Supreme Court ruling, the newspaper reported.

But for months, Hill, 35, of Warren, has been trying to fire his court-appointed counsel, accusing lead lawyer Mark A. VanderLaan and his defense team of mishandling his case.

In letters to judges, Hill says he wants attorneys to find witnesses who could clear him of a 1985 murder in Trumbull County.

So far, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has ignored Hill's demands.

VanderLaan said the letters are shams. He said they are composed by prisoners at Mansfield Correctional Institution who get Hill to sign them. VanderLaan said Hill never finished school and is basically illiterate.

The newspaper could not reach Hill for comment.

State-funded psychiatric exams show Hill has an IQ that falls below 70, the level many medical textbooks define as the point that marks below-average intellectual functioning.

Hill was found guilty in the death of Raymond Fife, a 12-year-old Warren boy, who was attacked while riding his bike along a wooded path to a friend's home.

Fife's dad found him naked and beaten in a field about four hours later. His underwear was tied around his neck and set afire with lighter fluid. The boy's body showed signs of sexual mutilation.

He died in the hospital two days later.

At Hill's trial, a dental expert testified for the prosecution that bite marks on the dead boy's body matched Hill's teeth.

Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery's office has argued during the appeal that Hill's mental capacity does not render him sufficiently retarded to escape a death sentence.

Psychological exams from the 1980s show that his IQ ranges from 55 to 68. David Bodiker, the state public defender, said Hill has an IQ of about 54.

"He used to watch court TV shows and thought it was his trial," Bodiker said.

The Supreme Court did not set an IQ level below which a person is deemed retarded. Most states set the IQ threshold at 70.

Hill has sent at least four letters to the Cincinnati appeals court, which is considering whether to declare him legally mentally retarded. On April 24, he asked the court to order a competency examination so he could prove he knew what he was doing.

"Other people are writing those for him -- he's in the sway of jailhouse lawyers," VanderLaan said. "It shows that he can't express himself."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)