Ohio killer ends attempt to delay 2nd inmate's execution for mental disability claim testimony
COLUMBUS, Ohio – A condemned inmate who has argued for decades that he is mentally disabled on Wednesday abandoned a brief attempt to keep a fellow death row prisoner alive at least long enough to testify on his behalf.
Danny Lee Hill, who raped and killed a 12-year-old boy in 1985, wanted Kevin Keith's Sept. 15 execution delayed so lawyers could interview Keith.
Hill's attempt apparently ran afoul of attorneys for Keith and the judge overseeing Hill's mental disability claim.
Earlier Wednesday, lawyers for Keith sent a letter to Gov. Ted Strickland, the only person left who could spare Keith, and made it clear they had nothing to do with Hill's motion.
Not long afterward, Hill's attorney dropped the request, citing in part "concerns expressed by the Court," referring to U.S. District Judge John Adams.
Hill's federal public defender, Vicki Werneke, would only say Wednesday that Keith's attorneys weren't involved with Hill's request.
Messages were left Wednesday with the Attorney General's office and with Adams.
Keith, 46, says he's innocent of killing three people in 1994, including a 4-year-old girl, and has asked Strickland for mercy. State and federal courts have upheld his conviction and death sentence. The Ohio Parole Board ruled unanimously last month to not recommend clemency.
Hill, whose IQ has been measured between 48 and 71, has argued unsuccessfully for years that he is mentally disabled. The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that an IQ below 71 is one measure of mental disability.
State courts have rejected his arguments and he is now making the claim in federal court. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 ruled that executing the mentally disabled is unconstitutional.
Hill, 43, doesn't bathe regularly or clean his cell and would not be able to understand the rules of card games, Keith said in a March statement filed in Hill's court case.
"Danny has issues with his hygiene," Keith wrote. "His cell has always been horrendous."
Hill wanted Adams to delay Keith's execution until Adams decides whether to allow a hearing on Hill's claims. At the very least, Hill was asking to delay Keith's execution until lawyers can interview Keith and produce a document that could be used later.
Hill's lawyers would rather "proceed at a deliberative and thoughtful pace rather than be rushed to make decisions," Werneke said in a court filing Wednesday.
The state said Hill's argument has no merit and Adams doesn't have the authority to delay Keith's execution.
The state also said Hill's attorneys don't need Keith's execution delayed to gather information.
Federal court rules "provide numerous ways to obtain any relevant information Keith may have before his execution," Stephen Maher, senior assistant state Attorney General, said in a court filing Aug. 26.
Keith's attorneys have identified an alternate suspect and provided alibi witnesses. They argue that witness identification of Keith as the shooter was flawed.
Their letter to Strickland emphasized worries about Hill's request.
The attorneys "are concerned that the unfortunate timing of the filing by Danny Hill's counsel may appear to be a collateral attempt by Kevin Keith to obtain a stay of execution," the letter said.
"This is not so, and Mr. Keith has had nothing to do with the current motions filed by Hill's counsel."
Strickland, a Democrat, has said Keith's case contains troubling circumstances. In 2008, he overrode the parole board and commuted the death sentence of an inmate who claimed innocence.
Strickland spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said the office was aware of the situation but declined further comment.