Denny Ross

Summit County, Ohio
Date of Crime:  May 20, 1999

Denny Frederick Ross was tried in Akron for the murder of 18-year-old Hannah Hill. Hill had disappeared one night and her body was found stuffed in the trunk of her Geo Prizm six days later. She had been beaten and strangled. Her body was found naked from the waist down and her bra and shirt were pushed up over her breasts. This display of her body suggested she was raped, but an autopsy found no evidence of rape and also determined that she was wearing her corduroy pants when she died. Hill had been romantic with Ross on the night of her disappearance and one theory of her murder is that her jealous and abusive boyfriend, Brad O'Born, had killed her for her infidelity. O'Born had scratch marks on his neck when police questioned him in the days following her disappearance.

Following the discovery of Hill's body, police interviewed Ross for the first time, who freely informed them that Hill had visited him on the night of her disappearance and that they had “kissed and stuff like that.” Seven hours later police returned with a search warrant and found a bag of Hill's clothes outside the building in which Ross lived. The clothes included her corduroy pants and her panties which were stained with Ross's semen. This evidence initially appeared to prove Ross's guilt, but Ross's failure to dispose of of the clothes in the days after the murder or even in the hours after police interviewed him suggested that police or the killer had planted them.

Police also maintained there was blood everywhere in Ross's apartment, presumably small specks, but they could never match any of it to Hill. At trial, police explained their failure to find a match by stating that a Luminol test was never performed. Beside Ross and O'Born, there were other suspects in the case. One suspect, Ray K. Warters, had reportedly fought with O'Born over Hill on the night of her disappearance and then immediately moved to North Carolina.

Hill had left her home in Kenmore about 10:30 p.m. on the night she vanished. Ross said Hill came to his apartment about 10:30 p.m. and left about 1 or 1:30 a.m. Since Hill had reportedly left her home sober and her autopsy found she was intoxicated at the time of her death, she must have consumed alcohol at some point. Police never determined when or where this occurred. At dawn the next morning, Akron residents noticed her unfamiliar car parked at 635 Caine Road. The car never moved from this location until Hill's body was found in it six days later.

The evidence left open many unanswered questions, most of which police investigators appeared not to care about resolving. At trial, the defense underscored its belief in the failure of the prosecution to prove its case by resting without presenting evidence or witnesses. Juror Scott T. Custer summed up the case by stating that it had “just too many holes.” Juror Alicia E. Bittner added, “How could they point the finger at this particular person, when you didn't rule out the other people? ... There were just too many other possibilities that weren't looked into.”

During trial the prosecution told the Akron Beacon Journal that O'Born had passed a lie detector test. This information was published the next morning. The prosecution did not say when this test occurred or what questions were asked. Since the results of lie detector tests are not considered reliable by U.S. courts, this evidence could not be presented to the jury. At jury deliberations, one juror stated privately to another that since O'Born had passed a lie detector test, Ross had to be guilty. The juror nevertheless changed his position on Ross's guilt to agree with the group because he said he had a problem at home and needed to finish his jury service that day.

When the juror's misconduct was reported to trial judge Jane Bond, the judge made no attempts to interview jurors to verify the misconduct or to fix the problem short of declaring a mistrial. Instead she consulted with the prosecution and the defense. The prosecution agreed to a mistrial but the defense opposed it unless it was declared with prejudice, which the judge refused to do. Knowing that the jury was likely to acquit, the judge declared a mistrial without prejudice. However, by the time of her ruling the jurors had filled out verdict forms acquitting Ross of the three most serious charges he was facing, including murder.

A new judge then barred a retrial on double jeopardy grounds. That decision was subsequently reversed in late 2002 by a state appellate court. In 2005, a federal judge reinstated the decision barring a retrial. However, in 2008, a federal appeals court reversed his decision and, in 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the reversal, allowing the state to retry Ross.  [9/10]


References:  Akron Beacon Journal, Las Vegas Review-Journal, American Justice

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Eastern Ohio Cases, Double Jeopardy Cases, Favorite Case Stories