Two women wait for justice as Trumbull Co. murderers spend over 30 years on Death Row

27 Investigates

It's been over 30 years, but two local women are still waiting for justice in the murder's of their family members

(WKBN) – It’s been 34 years since 12-year-old Raymond Fife was murdered. It’s been 33 years since the double murder of Doris and Raymond Montgomery. 

Now, in 2019, two women are still waiting for justice.

Raymond Fife’s mother Miriam has been waiting since 1985 for the day her son’s murderer, Danny Lee Hill, will be put to death. 

Linda Couch is the niece of Doris and Raymond Montgomery. She was the one who found the couple after Charles Lorraine stabbed them to death in 1986.

Both men are on death row. Both women are waiting.  

THE MURDER OF RAYMOND FIFE

On September 10, 1985, 12-year-old Raymond Fife hopped on his bike and headed to a friend’s house before a Boy Scout meeting. But, he never made it. 

On his way there, he was stopped by Timothy Combs and Danny Lee Hill near a wooded area. At the time, Combs was 17 and Hill was 18. 

The two young men beat and sexually tortured Raymond. He was strangled with his underwear, then set on fire before being left for dead. 

But he held on. 

His father and brother-in-law found him four hours later. Raymond Fife fought for his life for two days before passing away on September 12, 1985. 

“Raymond was a very ornery child. He was the imp of his class at school. He was always joking around, a funny kid. Laughing all the time,” Fife said.

Miriam Fife said her son had a great sense of humor and he was loved by many. He was active and loved bowling and baseball.

“He was in Boy Scouts; he loved Boy Scouts. Fishing, he loved to go on the boat with his dad,” she said.

After his death, the community donated a $5,000 reward for information that would lead to his killer.

Just a few nights after the attack, Danny Lee Hill went to the police station to trade information for the reward money. Police didn’t believe his story.

Four days after Raymond’s death, police arrested Hill. He had confessed to the crime. 

Then, Timothy Combs was arrested at his school. 

Within one week, both men had been arrested and charged with the kidnapping, rape and murder of Raymond Fife. But 34 years later, Raymond’s mother is still waiting for justice.

Because Combs was not 18 at the time of the crime, he could not be given the death penalty. Instead, he was given multiple life sentences. 

Hill was sentenced to death.

In 2018, Combs died in prison while serving out his sentence. 

As of now, Hill is still on death row and continues to file appeals against his sentence.

THE MURDER OF DORIS AND RAYMOND MONTGOMERY

Raymond Montgomery and his wife Doris lived in Warren, Ohio when they were killed by Charles Lorraine. 

Raymond’s niece described him as “a little feisty, Montgomery Irishman.”

“He was proud of the fact that he had been in the service, and also his brothers were in the service. He came from a family of eight kids,” said Lynda Couch.

She said Doris enjoyed ceramics, but at the time of her death had been bedridden for about six years, due to crippling arthritis. But despite this, she said Doris was always happy.

But their lives would come to a tragic end.

One night in May of 1986, 18-year-old Charles Lorraine stabbed the couple to death.

Doris was stabbed nine times, and Raymond was stabbed five times, both with a butcher knife. 

Lorraine then burglarized their home. 

“He murdered them, he left the house, took other people back to the house… He went to the bar on Parkman Road… When he went back to the house the second time with other people, they ransacked the house,” Couch said.

Couch said the Montgomerys knew Lorraine. They had hired him to help with different tasks around the house. And despite his horrific crimes, Lorraine would later describe the Montgomerys as “the two nicest people you would ever want to meet.”

WAITING

For both women, it has been more than 30 years since the murders of their loved ones. More than 30 years of appeals and policy changes. New lethal injection drugs being introduced, then taken away. 

Fife said the process has taken so long, her husband has since passed away and didn’t make it to see justice for his own son’s murder. 

He isn’t the only family member who has passed away before justice was served. 

Sitting on Death Row: 13 local inmates waiting for execution

Both Fife and Couch said they never imagined it would take decades for the death sentences to be carried out, especially since both men were caught almost immediately following the murders.

“They told me, when we had the trial, that there would probably be 11 years of automatic appeals that he was entitled to. But there was never a question that he murdered. He was arrested the same day, and later on in the afternoon, he said that he did it,” Couch said of Charles Lorraine.

When looking into why the process takes so long, there are several major aspects that appear. 

FINDING THE RIGHT WAY TO EXECUTE

Over the years, several executions have been halted due to the inability to find the necessary drugs. 

Recently, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine delayed executions again, stating Ohio should look for lethal injection alternatives. 

In 2014, Ohio became the first state where executions were carried out by a combination of the drugs Midazolam and Hydromorphone. But those drugs were no longer used after two executions went wrong

In the case of Dennis McGuire, he took nearly 25 minutes to die after being injected with the drug combination. He reportedly struggled, gasped and choked for several minutes before he was pronounced dead. 

McGuire was convicted of the 1994 rape and murder of 22-year-old Joy Stewart. She was seven months pregnant at the time.

After McGuire’s execution, there was a three-year freeze on executions in Ohio, until another lethal injection protocol could be found. 

In 2017, once the freeze was lifted, Ohio began using a three-part cocktail — Midazolam (as a sedative), a paralytic drug and Potassium Chloride (to stop the heart) — as its form of lethal injection. 

But when a federal judge suggested the execution cocktail was unconstitutional in January of this year, Governor DeWine felt the need to pause upcoming executions again. In fact, he has asked legislative leaders to consider alternative methods of executions. 

Ohio is one of the 17 states that use lethal injection as its only method of execution. 

In other states, inmates may have the option to choose how they are executed. For example, in Oklahoma, there may be cases in which an inmate can choose to die by electrocution or firing squad. 

Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins also feels Ohio should explore other methods of execution.

“To me, it’s simple… The first thing I would look at… we have fentanyl, carfentanil forfeiture, let’s use that. We can overdose these Death Row people with fentanyl, carfentanil,” he said.

Although these methods may or may not be considered humane, Watkins feels the punishment should fit the crime.

“I don’t buy into, and neither has the United States Supreme Court, that there’s no, a perfect death that you have no suffering… You go look at the victim, let me show you Tami Engstrom, and the 96 perimortem wounds and tell me about suffering of these victims,” Watkins said, referring to the case against Kenneth Biros who was put to death for the brutal murder of Engstrom.

THE APPEALS PROCESS

When an inmate is sentenced to death, the inmate is given the opportunity to file an appeal. This often creates a long, drawn-out process in which inmates are sitting for years on Death Row.

A direct appeal is automatically given to any person sentenced to death. The appeal is made to the state’s highest court. This is a process that doesn’t typically happen quickly.

“That will take some time because the records in death penalty cases are often longer because a variety of motions. Because it’s two stages, you may have a motion to suppress. So, it’s gonna take months, maybe a year or longer for a record to be produced, because it’s such a complicated case,” Watkins said.

Often, Death Row inmates will claim they have an intellectual disability, or that the punishment for the crime is cruel and unusual.

In some cases, these claims could result in new hearings, such as in the Danny Lee Hill case. 

Since his conviction, he has filed numerous appeals to have his sentence overthrown. Arguments for his latest appeal are scheduled in December.

“Most of the delay in cases, have been numerous state and federal appeals, and also appeals that involve new constitutional rulings,” Watkins said.

CLOSURE

“I always say there is never real closure; it’s like writing a book. You get the end of each chapter, but when the actual end comes, it doesn’t close anything for you. You could have a sequel, because it still goes on in your mind,” Fife said.

Out of the 138 inmates on Ohio’s death row, only 24 of them have an execution date.

One of them is Charles Lorraine, who has been given an execution date of March 15, 2023.

Couch said although having a date does bring some hope for justice, she said she can’t move on until she knows it will be carried out.

“You go on with your life, but this is always in the background,” Couch said.

A federal appeals court will decide whether Danny Lee Hill should be executed. 

After claiming an intellectual disability, it is possible that Hill could escape his death sentence. 

Fife said although she does not hate Hill, she feels his death sentence should be upheld.

“You have to forgive because hatred can eat you up… I have forgiven Danny Hill and Tim Combs because I got an education as to where they came from and how they turned out the way they were… It doesn’t excuse what they did. This punishment definitely fits the crime and should be carried out,” Fife said.

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