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Appeals court blocks execution of Ohio man convicted in 1986 murder

May 20 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that Ohio cannot execute a man sentenced to death in the rape and murder of a 12-year-old boy as he is intellectually disabled.

The three-judge panel for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a unanimous opinion reversing and remanding Danny Hill's death sentence in the 1986 murder of 12-year-old Raymond Fife.

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The court ruled that executing Danny Hill would be unconstitutional under the 2002 Supreme Court decision in Atkins vs. Virginia, which bars the execution of the intellectually disabled.

"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," the panel wrote.

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At the time of Hill's original sentencing, there was no precedent in place barring the execution of intellectually disabled death row inmates.

An original petition for writ of habeas corpus for Hill was denied by U.S. District Judge John Adams in 2014 and later reversed by the 6th Circuit court but the Supreme Court ultimately ruled the appeals court had applied an improper standard.

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In its ruling on the current appeal, the court noted that Hill had already been convicted of two rape counts by the time he was 17 and had an IQ of 55-68 at the time of his trial, which the court said, "easily meets the first element of the clinical definition of intellectual disability."

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The court also stated that the Ohio Court of Appeals "veered off track" by focusing primarily on Hill's interactions with law enforcement prison officials and the courts.

"The Ohio courts discounted extensive past evidence of intellectual disability -- including multiple diagnoses of intellectual disability and numerous comments on Hill's adaptive deficiencies made while Hill was in school," the panel wrote.

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