WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – There are a lot of things that take time. Twenty years is a good benchmark for fine wine, adults reach maturity at about 25, and some Oak trees aren’t considered fully grown until 30 years have passed, but the death penalty case of Danny Lee Hill has been in the court system for over 35 years. Some say it’s way overdue, and now, a new law could expedite the process.
It’s hard to find anyone in the Mahoning Valley who doesn’t know who Danny Lee Hill is or his murder victim Raymond Fife. Keeping the 12-year-old’s name alive is due mostly to the tireless efforts of his mother and father Miriam and Ike Fife. Ike died in 2006, leaving Miriam to advocate for her son without the support of her husband, but she was not alone.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, who tried the original case, has been fighting Hills’ appeals since he was sentenced to die in 1986. In all, there have been about 26 court proceedings and counting.
Even though Ohio has a moratorium on the death penalty, a new execution date has been set for Hill for July 22, 2026, but there are two appeals pending: One in federal court involving bite mark evidence that Watkins says has already been adjudicated but is being heard again and one in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. Now, an Ohio law that took effect in 2018 could get Miriam Fife a seat at the table.
Through Watkins, Fife filed a “motion to intervene” late last week in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. It’s a way for the court to hear from Fife about her constitutional rights as a victim and her right to not have “unreasonable delay” in seeking justice. Marsy’s Law was approved by voters on Nov. 7, 2017, and the Hill case is one of the first in Ohio in which the law is being used, according to Watkins. It gives victims equal rights to the accused and convicted.
Fife’s motion to intervene states that she wishes to “enforce her constitutional rights as a victim by having the courts ‘protect in a manner no less vigorously than the rights afforded to [Hill],’ her right to ‘proceedings free from unreasonable delay and prompt conclusion of the case.'”
The hope, according to the filing is to stop “limitless tactical motion practice, delaying the justice to which she is entitled under the Constitution of the State of Ohio,” the filing read.
Watkins has maintained that Hill’s case should be dismissed and that guilt or innocence is not at issue but instead factors about the case that continue to be appealed and litigated even after they had previously been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ohio Supreme Court.
Hill’s federal case concerning the reconsideration of bite mark evidence is pending in federal court.
A hearing on Fife’s motion to intervene is set for November 10. Hill has already filed a motion to continue.