On Remand from the Supreme Court of the United States.
United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Youngstown;
No. 4:96-cv-00795—Paul R. Matia, District Judge.
Reargued: December 5, 2019
Decided and Filed: May 20, 2020
Before: MERRITT, MOORE, and CLAY, Circuit Judges.
PER CURIAM. Danny Hill asserts in his habeas petition that the State of Ohio may not
execute him because he is intellectually disabled. See Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002).
Atkins, the case that bars the execution of intellectually disabled defendants, was decided and
made retroactive after Hill was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Prior to Atkins, Hill
had raised his intellectual disability as a mitigating factor in the penalty phase of his trial. See
State v. Hill, Nos. 3720, 3745, 1989 WL 142761 (Ohio Ct. App. Nov. 27, 1989). Three
psychological experts testified in that proceeding that Hill was intellectually disabled. The Ohio
courts agreed, stating that Hill “suffers from some mental retardation” and is “mildly to
moderately retarded.” See id. at *6; State v. Hill, 595 N.E.2d 884, 901 (Ohio 1992) (discussing
the experts’ testimony). But ultimately, Hill was sentenced to death because all that his
intellectual disability counted for at the time was a point in his favor in the sentencing
calculation—not a bar to his execution. See Hill, 1989 WL 142761, at *4. When Atkins came
down, our court issued a remand order directing the Ohio courts to formally assess Hill’s
intellectual functioning under Atkins. Hill v. Anderson, 300 F.3d 679, 682 (6th Cir. 2002). Even
though “Ohio courts reviewing his case have concluded that Danny Hill is retarded, and
voluminous expert testimony supported this conclusion,” we issued a remand because Hill’s
Atkins claim “ha[d] not been exhausted or conceded.” Id. (citations omitted). This time around,
the Ohio courts decided that Hill was not intellectually disabled. See State v. Hill, 894 N.E.2d
108, 127 (Ohio Ct. App. 2008).
We hold that Hill is intellectually disabled and that he cannot be sentenced to death. No
person looking at this record could reasonably deny that Hill is intellectually disabled under
Atkins. In holding otherwise, the Ohio courts avoided giving serious consideration to past
evidence of Hill’s intellectual disability. Doing so amounted to an unreasonable determination
of the facts and an unreasonable application of even the general Atkins standard. Accordingly,
we REVERSE the judgment of the district court and REMAND the case with instructions to
grant the petition and to issue the writ of habeas corpus with respect to Hill’s death sentence.
In addition to his Atkins claim, Hill raises a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel that
attacks his trial counsel’s performance during his state Atkins hearing, a Miranda claim arguing
that certain statements should have been suppressed during his trial, a prosecutorial-misconduct
claim, and a due-process claim arguing that Hill was not competent to stand trial at the time of
his convictions. For the reasons set forth below, and as explained in our prior opinion, we
AFFIRM the district court’s judgment denying Hill’s habeas petition with regard to the latter
three claims, and pretermit the ineffective assistance of counsel claim regarding Atkins because
we are granting relief on the merits of the Atkins claim.