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Hill v. Anderson

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

February 2, 2018

Danny Hill, Petitioner-Appellant,
Carl Anderson, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued: November 30, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Youngstown. No. 4:96-cv-00795-Paul R. Matia and John R. Adams, District Judges.


          Vicki Ruth Adams Werneke, FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER'S OFFICE, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Peter T. Reed, OFFICE OF THE OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Vicki Ruth Adams Werneke, Lori B. Riga, FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER'S OFFICE, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Peter T. Reed, Stephen E. Maher, OFFICE OF THE OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee.

          Before: MERRITT, MOORE, and CLAY, Circuit Judges.


          MERRITT, Circuit Judge.

         In this death penalty case out of Ohio, Danny Hill asserts in his habeas petition that he may not be executed because he is "intellectually disabled, " as now defined in three Supreme Court cases decided in the past fifteen years.[1] Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), was decided and made retroactive after Hill was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, so although Hill raised his intellectual disability as a mitigating factor in the penalty phase of his trial, he was not afforded the constitutional protections set forth in Atkins during his original trial. Our court issued a remand order in 2002 directing the State of Ohio to assess Hill's intellectual functioning in light of Atkins. Hill v. Anderson, 300 F.3d 679 (6th Cir. 2002). The issue now before us is whether that assessment comports with Atkins and the Supreme Court's later opinions on the subject. We conclude that the courts in Ohio have unreasonably applied the Supreme Court's three-part standard in this case.

         In its three cases on the subject of executing the intellectually disabled, the Supreme Court relies on two diagnostic manuals of the psychiatric profession to determine whether a defendant has an "intellectual disability"-Intellectual Disability: Definition, Classification, and Systems of Supports, the diagnostic manual published by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.[2] Both manuals require three separate findings before a diagnosis of intellectual disability is appropriate: (1) the individual exhibits significant deficits in intellectual functioning-indicated by an IQ score "approximately two standard deviations or more below the mean, " or roughly 70; (2) the individual exhibits significant adaptive skill deficits-such as "the inability to learn basic skills and adjust behavior to changing circumstances"-in certain specified skill sets; and (3) the deficits arose while the individual was still a minor. See Moore v. Texas, 137 S.Ct. 1039, 1045 (2017); Hall v. Florida, 134 S.Ct. 1986, 1994-95 (2014); Atkins, 536 U.S. at 308 n.3.

         The Ohio courts and the parties agree that Hill's IQ is so low (ranging from a low of 48 to a high of 71) that he easily meets the first element of the clinical definition of intellectual disability. They disagree, however, on the propriety of the state courts' holdings that Hill did not exhibit sufficient adaptive deficits under the second element and that Hill's deficits did not manifest themselves before Hill reached the age of 18. Therefore, we must resolve the dispute between the parties as to these two elements.

         On the question of "adaptive deficits, " we conclude that the Ohio courts have made the same basic mistake as the Texas courts in the recent case of Moore v. Texas, in which the Supreme Court reversed the death penalty because the Texas court incorrectly ruled that the prisoner's "adaptive strengths . . . constituted evidence adequate to overcome the considerable objective evidence of Moore's adaptive deficits." 137 S.Ct. at 1050. The Supreme Court rejected that view, noting that "the medical community focuses the adaptive-functioning inquiry on adaptive deficits." Id. (emphasis in original) (citing AAIDD-11, at 47 (2010); DSM-5, at 33, 38 (2013)).[3] That view is consistent with the Court's previous observation that "intellectually disabled persons may have 'strengths in social or physical capabilities, strengths in some adaptive skill areas, or strengths in one aspect of an adaptive skill in which they otherwise show an overall limitation.'" Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2281 (2015) (quoting AAMR-10, at 8 (2002)). The case supporting a finding that Hill is intellectually disabled is even stronger than in Moore. Whereas Moore's intellectual functioning based on IQ was debatable, Hill's IQ is so low that the Warden concedes that Hill satisfies the first element of the definition.

         We recognize that Moore was decided after the Ohio Court of Appeals rejected Hill's Atkins claim in 2008. See State v. Hill, 894 N.E.2d 108, 127 (Ohio Ct. App. 2008). Ordinarily, Supreme Court decisions that post-date a state court's determination cannot be "clearly established law" for the purposes of AEDPA. Peak v. Webb, 673 F.3d 465, 472 (6th Cir. 2012) (Under AEDPA, the "law in question must have been clearly established at the time the state-court decision became final, not after."). However, as discussed in more detail below, we find that Moore's holding regarding adaptive strengths is merely an application of what was clearly established by Atkins.

         In light of the Ohio Court of Appeals' unreasonable determinations under both the adaptive-skills and age-of-onset prongs of the Atkins standard, 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 an ineffective assistance of counsel claim 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, 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.

         I. Background

         The facts and legal proceedings surrounding Hill's conviction and death sentence in 1986 are set out in our earlier opinion. See Hill, 300 F.3d at 681. Because this case centers on the issue of intellectual disability, what follows is an account of the facts and proceedings relevant to that question in this case.

         Several evaluations conducted around the time of Hill's trial in 1986 reveal that Hill "has a diminished mental capacity, " a fact acknowledged by the state court after Hill's Atkins hearing. See Hill, 894 N.E.2d at 112 (summarizing the testimonies of the three experts who testified during the mitigation phase of the initial trial that Hill was "mentally retarded"). Hill's IQ at the time of trial ranged from 55 to 68, and his moral development was "primitive"-essentially that of a two-year old. Id.

         Hill has also demonstrated an "inability to learn basic skills and adjust [his] behavior to changing circumstances" since a very young age. Hall, 134 S.Ct. at 1994. Since his earliest days in school, Hill has struggled with academics. At the age of six, a school psychologist noted that Hill was "a slow learning child" and recommended that his teachers "make his work as concrete as possible" without "talking about abstract ideas." Warren Cty. School Psychologist's Report, dated Mar. 20, 1973. After kindergarten, Hill was placed into special education classes for the remainder of his time in the public school system. Hill struggled to keep up academically even in his special education classes and had difficulty remembering even the simplest of instructions. At the age of 15, Hill could barely read or write. Those problems persist today. Indeed, prison records and testimony of prison guards indicate that the prison staff believed Hill to be illiterate, that he could not remember the balance on his commissary account and would often spend more money than was in his account, and that he could not perform even the most basic cleaning tasks without close supervision.[4] See Supp. Atkins App'x at 1325, 1483-86, 1510-12, 1553, 1784.[5]

         Hill has also been unable to take care of his hygiene independently from a young age. Hill's school psychologist recalled that, even as a kindergartener, Hill "had a problem with body odor and did not wear clean clothes to school." Decl. of Karen Weiselberg-Ross, Warren Cty. School Psychologist ¶¶ 4, 12. During his time in a home for children with behavioral issues, Hill could not remember to comb his hair, brush his teeth, or take a shower without daily reminders. Mitigation Hr'g Tr. at 88, No. 85-cr-317 (Ohio Ct. of Common Pleas Feb. 26, 2986).[6] Even in the highly structured environment of death row, Hill would not shower without reminders.

         The Supreme Court decided Atkins in 2002 while Hill's appeal from the district court's denial of his habeas petition was pending before this court. We remanded the case to the district court with instructions to remand Hill's unexhausted Atkins claim to the state court and to stay the remaining claims pending resolution of the Atkins claim. Hill, 300 F.3d at 683. After the case was returned to the state court, three experts-Drs. David Hammer, J. Gregory Olley, and Nancy Huntsman-examined Hill and testified over the course of several evidentiary hearings on Hill's Atkins claim.[7] Dr. Hammer was retained by Hill, Dr. Olley acted as the state's expert, and Dr. Huntsman was appointed by the trial court. Dr. Hammer concluded that Hill met all three prongs for a diagnosis of intellectual disability. However, Drs. Olley and Huntsman concluded that Hill was not intellectually disabled. After considering the evidence presented on Hill's claim of intellectual disability, the state trial court denied Hill's petition for relief under Atkins, finding that Hill did not exhibit significant adaptive deficits and that any deficits he did have did not manifest before the age of 18. State v. Hill, No. 85-CR-317 (Ohio Ct. of Common Pleas Feb. 15, 2006) (unreported). The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court over a dissent. State v. Hill, 894 N.E.2d 108 (Ohio Ct. App. 2008). The Ohio Supreme Court declined to review the case, with two justices dissenting. State v. Hill, 912 N.E.2d 107 (Ohio 2009) (table).

         Hill then moved to reopen and amend his habeas petition in this case to include claims under Atkins. The district court denied Hill's amended petition in a thorough opinion, holding that the deferential standard of review under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) mandated denial of Hill's habeas petition. Hill v. Anderson, No. 4:96-cv-00795, 2014 WL 2890416, at *51 (N.D. Ohio June 25, 2014). The district court denied Hill's petition despite its serious misgivings about the state court's rejection of the extensive record evidence that provided important diagnostic information regarding Hill's adaptive functioning and the age of onset of Hill's intellectual disability. Id. Ultimately, the district court believed AEDPA required acceptance of the state court's determinations that Hill did not exhibit sufficient adaptive deficits and that Hill's disability did not manifest before the age of 18.

         The district court was right to be skeptical of the state court judgment because it amounted to an unreasonable application of the standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Atkins and as later explained by Hall and Moore. Specifically, the state court's determination was unreasonable in two ways: First, the state court departed from the requirements of Atkins when it disregarded well-established clinical standards for assessing adaptive deficits by focusing on Hill's adaptive strengths instead of his adaptive deficits. Second, the trial court ignored clear and convincing evidence that Hill exhibited substantial deficits in both his intellectual and adaptive abilities since long before he turned 18.

         II. Standard of Review

         The parties dispute the proper standard of review for Hill's Atkins claims. Hill argues that we should review the state courts' determinations on adaptive deficits and age of onset as legal conclusions under 28 U.S.C. § 2554(d)(1), which would have us ask whether those decisions amount to an unreasonable application of the Supreme Court's precedents in Atkins and its progeny. The Warden argues that we should instead review those determinations as findings of fact under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), which would require us to accept the state court's findings absent "clear and convincing evidence" to the contrary. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         We agree with Hill that the state courts' determination on adaptive deficits should be analyzed as a legal conclusion under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) because it is merely the result of an application of the standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Atkins and its progeny to the facts as found by the trial court. See Van Tran v. Colson, 764 F.3d 594, 626-27 (6th Cir. 2014) (holding that the "state court's application of Tennessee law with regard to whether [the defendant] is intellectually disabled under Atkins was contrary to clearly established federal law"); Black v. Bell, 664 F.3d 81, 100 (6th Cir. 2011) ("The rules governing what factors may be considered in determining whether a defendant qualifies as mentally retarded under Atkins deal with questions of law."); Murphy v. Ohio, 551 F.3d 485, 510 (6th Cir. 2009) (reviewing state courts' resolution of Atkins claim under 28 U.S.C. § 2554(d)(1)). As a result, our review under AEDPA consists of determining whether the state courts' conclusion that Hill did not exhibit deficits in two or more adaptive skill sets was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). A state court judgment is the result of an unreasonable application of clearly established law for AEDPA purposes when the state court "correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies it unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 408-09 (2000).

         However, we agree with the Warden that the state court's conclusion on the age of onset is better analyzed as a finding of fact under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2) as it is based entirely on an assessment of the evidence presented during Hill's evidentiary hearing. Accordingly, our review is limited to the question of whether the state court's finding that Hill's intellectual and adaptive deficits did not manifest before the age of 18 amounts to "an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). In making that assessment, we are mindful that AEDPA directs us to presume that facts decided by the state court are correct absent "clear and convincing evidence" to the contrary. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         III. Adaptive Deficits

         Hill first disputes the Ohio court's finding that he did not exhibit "subaverage adaptive skills, " reasoning that the state court's finding amounted to an unreasonable application of Atkins because the court's analysis on that point disregarded established medical practice. We agree and find that Hill has deficits in at least two adaptive skillsets under Atkins.

         A. Standard for Assessing Adaptive Deficits

         In Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of intellectually disabled individuals after identifying a "national consensus" against the practice from a survey of state legislation exempting the intellectually disabled from the death penalty. 536 U.S. at 314-17. The Court defined "mental retardation" by reference to two clinical definitions of the phrase: one from the American Association on Mental Retardation's Mental Retardation: Definition, Classification, and Systems of Supports (9th ed. 1992), and a second from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed. 2000). Id. at 308 n.3. Both definitions consisted of three independent elements: (1) significantly subaverage intellectual functioning, (2) significant limitations in adaptive functions, and (3) the first two elements manifested themselves before the age of 18. Id.

         Since Atkins, the Supreme Court has twice reaffirmed the centrality of clinical standards to the judicial inquiry regarding a defendant's eligibility for the death penalty. Moore, 137 S.Ct. at 1048-49; Hall, 135 S.Ct. at 2000. While it is true that the states retain some discretion to "develop[] appropriate ways to enforce the constitutional restriction upon [their] execution of sentences, " Atkins, 536 U.S. at 317 (internal quotation and citation omitted), the Court has been clear that the states' discretion on that count is not "unfettered." Moore, 137 S.Ct. at 1048, 1052-53 (quoting Hall, 134 S.Ct. at 1998). Specifically, states' determinations on the question of whether an individual is intellectually disabled "must be 'informed by the medical community's diagnostic framework.'" Id. at 1048 (quoting Hall, 134 S.Ct. at 2000). When a court "disregards established medical practice" in assessing a criminal defendant's claim of intellectual disability, the error amounts to an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. Hall, 134 S.Ct. at 1995, 2001; see also Moore, 137 S.Ct. at 1053.

         Moore v. Texas clarified the "prevailing clinical standards" for assessing whether a criminal defendant possesses sufficient adaptive deficits to be constitutionally ineligible for execution. Moore, 137 S.Ct. at 1050-52. In Moore, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals concluded that the prisoner did not exhibit sufficient adaptive deficits because he had previously "lived on the streets, mowed lawns, and played pool for money." Id. at 1050. The Court rejected that approach and admonished courts not to "overemphasize[] [the defendant's] perceived adaptive strengths." Id. Instead, courts should follow "prevailing clinical standards, " which "focus[] the adaptive-functioning inquiry on adaptive deficits." Id. (emphasis in original) (citing AAIDD-11, at 47 (2010) and DSM-5, at 33, 38 (2013)). The Supreme Court further noted "even if clinicians would consider adaptive strengths alongside adaptive weaknesses within the same adaptive-skill domain, neither Texas nor the dissent identifies any clinical authority permitting the arbitrary offsetting of deficits against unconnected strengths in which the [Texas Court of Criminal Appeals] engaged." Id. at 1050 n.8. The Supreme Court also cautioned against "reliance on adaptive strengths developed 'in a controlled setting, ' [like] prison" and pointed to clinical guidelines advising that strengths observed in prison should be compared to similar skills in general society whenever possible. Id. (citing DSM-5, at 38 (2013)).

         Although they were decided after the state court decisions in this case, the primary holdings in Hall and Moore were compelled by Atkins. Both are illustrations of what was previously established by Atkins. Harris v. Stovall, 212 F.3d 940, 944 (6th Cir. 2000) ("'[C]learly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States' means that the rule sought by petitioner must have been dictated or compelled by [existing precedent].").

         Atkins itself looked to the consensus of the medical community as reflected in medical texts and treatises to define "intellectual disability." 536 U.S. at 308 n.3. In coming to its conclusion that the focus of the adaptive-functioning inquiry should be on adaptive deficits and not strengths, the Supreme Court in Moore looked to the medical texts available to it, including the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (11th ed. 2010), and a second from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed. 2013). Moore, 137 S.Ct. at 1045. Neither of these editions cited by the Court would have been available at the time of Hill's Atkins hearing. However, the medical literature available in 2008 also required that the focus be on adaptive deficits rather than adaptive strengths. For example, the American Association on Mental Retardation defined "mental retardation" and then provided four assumptions "essential to the application of the definition, " including that "[s]pecific adaptive limitations often coexist with strengths in other adaptive skills or other personal capabilities." AAMR-9 (1992). As mentioned above, this source was cited by the Supreme Court in Atkins in order to define intellectual disability. 536 U.S. at 308 n.3. Additionally, a later edition of the American Association on Mental Retardation's manual says that intellectually disabled persons may have "strengths in social or physical capabilities, strengths in some adaptive skill areas, or strengths in one aspect of an adaptive skill in which they otherwise show an overall limitation." AAMR-10, at 8 (2002).

         Consequently, the Ohio Court of Appeals was required by Atkins and the medical literature available to it in 2008 to assess whether Hill had adaptive skill deficits in two or more categories, and not to focus on Hill's adaptive strengths. Our use of Moore and Hall is limited to comply with AEDPA, but our conclusion regarding what Atkins clearly established is buttressed by the Court's reasoning in Hall and Moore. In Hall, for instance, the Court stated that it "reads Atkins to provide substantial guidance on the definition of intellectual disability, " 134 S.Ct. at 1999, and the Court determined that Florida had "misconstrue[d] the Court's statements in Atkins" in refusing to allow defendants to present evidence of intellectual disability if their IQ scores exceeded 70. Id. at 2001. And in Moore, the Court described the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals' "conclusion" that the defendant was not intellectually disabled as "irreconcilable with Hall." 137 S.Ct. at 1049. Such statements indicate that Atkins dictated the holding in Hall, and Hall, in turn, dictated the holding in Moore.

         In addition, the Moore Court described a 2015 case-Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269 (2015)-as "relying on Hall to find unreasonable a state court's conclusion that a score of 75 precluded an intellectual-disability finding." 137 S.Ct. at 1049. Because Brumfield reached the Supreme Court on collateral review and the state post-conviction rulings on the defendant's Atkins claims preceded Hall, the Supreme Court's reliance on Hall in Brumfield makes clear that Hall's principal holdings were compelled by Atkins. Finally, a recent decision by our court discussed Hall and Moore in reviewing a district court's denial of an Atkins claim, even though the district court's decision predated Hall and Moore. Black v. Carpenter, 866 F.3d 734, 744 (6th Cir. 2017). Black therefore corroborates this panel's conclusion that the holdings of Moore and Hall were required by Atkins.

         B. Ohio Courts' Application of Atkins

         Contrary to Atkins, the Ohio courts overemphasized Hill's adaptive strengths and relied too heavily on adaptive strengths that Hill exhibited in the controlled environment of his death-row prison cell. In so doing, they unreasonably applied clearly established law.

         Ohio has adopted the three-prong standard set forth in Atkins for evaluating a claim of intellectual disability. State v. Lott, 779 N.E.2d 1011 (Ohio 2002). In Lott, the Supreme Court of Ohio specifically approved the definition of intellectual disability set forth in the then-current editions of the diagnostic manuals. Id. at 1014. Applying the standards in those manuals, individuals had significant limitations in adaptive skills if they exhibited deficits in at least two of the following ten areas: communication, self-care, home living, social skills, community use, self-direction, health and safety, functional academics, leisure, and work.[8]

          In this case, the Ohio appellate court correctly set forth the three-prong Atkins standard as adopted by the Ohio Supreme Court in Lott. It also correctly noted that the second criterion under Lott requires the defendant to demonstrate "significant limitations in two or more adaptive skills, such as communication, self-care, and self-direction." Hill, 894 N.E.2d at 113 (emphasis added). The Ohio court then veered off track when it disregarded the prevailing clinical practice documented in the medical literature by placing undue emphasis on Hill's adaptive strengths, as opposed to his adaptive weaknesses, and by relying too heavily on the observations of prison guards concerning Hill's behavior in the highly regimented environment of his prison block. Id. at 124-25.

         1. The Ohio Courts Inappropriately Focused on Hill's Adaptive Strengths

         The Ohio courts' conclusion that Hill did not demonstrate significant limitations in two or more adaptive skill areas was the result of an inappropriate focus on Hill's adaptive strengths instead of the constitutionally required analysis of Hill's adaptive weaknesses. In determining that "Hill's adaptive skills are inconsistent with a mentally retarded individual, " the state trial court focused extensively on Hill's interview with a reporter, his demeanor in interacting with law enforcement and the legal system, and the circumstances surrounding the Fife murder. State v. Hill, slip op. at 73-77. Those supposed adaptive strengths convinced the state trial court that Hill could not be intellectually disabled because he had "remarkable" communication and vocabulary skills and was self-directed. Id. at 74. Even assuming the truth of those findings- though there is substantial evidence in the record to contradict them-they demonstrate only that communication and self-direction may be some of Hill's strengths, and "prevailing clinical standards" hold that such strengths cannot be used to discount demonstrated weakness in other areas of adaptive functioning. Moore, 137 S.Ct. at 1050. Even cursory analysis of the evidence from the Atkins hearing reveals that Hill has had consistent and significant limitations in at least two identified areas of adaptive functioning-functional academics and hygiene/self-care-since childhood. The record also supports finding limitations in two additional areas-social skills and self-direction.

         With respect to functional academics, Hill was considered "mentally retarded" by the Warren City Schools. He was diagnosed as mildly mentally retarded, "trainable mentally retarded, " or "educable mentally retarded" several times before he turned 18, beginning with the recognition that he was a "slow learning child" when he began formal schooling at age 6. He scored below 70 on every IQ test administered during his school years. He attended special education classes for the entirety of his school career, which meant that all of his academic classes were taught at a very basic level. He was "mainstreamed" only in physical education and music, and struggled even there to keep up with and socialize normally with his peer group. There is no record of him taking "mainstream" classes in any academic subject area, i.e., math, reading, or history. At age thirteen, he was sent to a school for intellectually disabled children, and was transferred to another, similar school at fifteen because of poor academic achievement and behavior. At seventeen years old, after being arrested for, and pleading guilty to, two felony rape charges, the juvenile court placed Hill in a facility that housed youth offenders with mental disabilities or emotional problems. There, Hill completed ninth grade in special education classes at age 18. After being released, he returned to high school, but Fife's murder occurred six months later.

         At age six, Hill did not know his age, but thought he was nine. His reading and verbal skills were at the five-year-old level and he had a mental age of four years and six months. At age 8 and 8 months, Hill was considered functioning at a "high kindergarten level." At age 13, he was functioning at the "mid-2nd grade level" in reading and the "mid-1st grade level" in arithmetic. Also when Hill was 13-years-old, a school psychologist set out "special instructional recommendations" that included teaching Hill his address and phone number, as well as how to tell time. He exhibited weaknesses in reasoning ability, originality, verbal interaction, and a lack of intellectual independence. By 14, he was reading at a first-grade level and his math skills were at a third-grade level, and he still had not mastered writing his own signature. His teacher was working on self-control skills that would generally be mastered by a kindergarten student, including "working without being disruptive" and not touching other students inappropriately. Teachers set academic objectives like learning to: tell time in five-minute intervals; write his own signature; shower regularly; put soiled clothing in the appropriate place; and eat and drink in a manner appropriate in a school setting. Hill was described as hyperactive and needing to complete tasks "one step at a time."

         The record also demonstrates that Hill was deficient in hygiene and self-care. At the age of 14, he still needed to be told to shower regularly, brush his teeth, and apply deodorant every day. He would not independently follow through and take care of his hygiene unless he was told to do so. At approximately age 16, a group home officer noted that although Hill was "improving in his personal hygiene, " he still "need[ed] constant reminder[s] to shower, brush his teeth, etc.[.]" Hill continued to have problems with his hygiene in prison and had to be reminded frequently to groom himself.

         The record also demonstrates Hill had limitations in the area of social skills. For example, the district court pointed to the testimony of psychologists who spoke to Hill's "poor self-esteem, inability to interpret social situations and create positive relationships, and [the fact] that he was easily influenced by people, gravitated toward an antisocial peer group, and did not respond appropriately to authority figures." Hill, 2014 WL 2890416, at *38. Hill's school and court records demonstrate that he had trouble making friends. At 17, Hill was described as "socially constricted" and possessing "very few interpersonal coping skills."

         Hill also showed limitations in at least one more area-self-direction. Hill was described as "easily led" in both his school and court records, and from periods both before and after he committed serious crimes while apparently acting alone. In school, Hill was described as immature and "easily led by others into trouble around school, " like fighting. He was vulnerable to exploitation by older individuals, displayed inappropriate and immature behaviors in class, rarely considered the consequences before acting, and had trouble conforming his behavior to the rules or the law. When Hill was 13, he was described as exhibiting a "great deal of impulsivity." When Hill was 17, he was evaluated by a psychologist who concluded that he had poor judgment, "d[id] not think of consequences, " was "highly suggestable, " and "was 'likely to be exploited'" if placed in halfway home for adults "because of his 'passivity and limited intellectual ability.'" Another report from that same time expressed concern about his tendency to follow others.

         In addition to his significant limitations in functional academics, self-care, social skills, and self-direction, the record also demonstrates that Hill has never lived independently, never had a driver's license or a bank account, never been able to perform a job without substantial guidance from supervisors, was labeled "functionally illiterate" at school and in prison, could never read or write above a third-grade level, and could never adequately sign his own name.

         In sum, the record is clear that Hill was universally considered to be intellectually disabled by school teachers, administrators, and the juvenile court system, and that those same authorities documented deficits in several adaptive skills areas. Hill consistently performed very poorly in school (functional academics); there was consistent documentation that he had trouble maintaining proper hygiene despite reminders (self-care); he had trouble making friends and responding appropriately to authority figures (social and communication); and he was described as a follower, easily led, and vulnerable to exploitation by adults (self-direction). The record shows that these deficits largely continued into adulthood, particularly with respect to self-care and functional academics. When these facts are applied to the clinical standards articulated by the Supreme Court in Atkins and by the Supreme Court of Ohio in Lott, they overwhelmingly indicate that Hill had significant limitations in at least two, and probably four, adaptive skill areas. Any apparent strengths are not relevant to the inquiry.

         The Ohio court's finding to the contrary does not comport with the clinical guidelines ratified by the Supreme Court for assessing adaptive deficits. Hill's ability to communicate effectively and to direct his actions to a specified goal does not mean that he did not have significant limitations in other adaptive skill areas. Instead of marshalling facts in opposition to the clear conclusion from the record evidence that Hill had significant limitations in at least functional academics and self-care, the Ohio court rested its conclusion on Hill's relative strengths in communication and self-direction. And even within those two areas, the Ohio courts failed to grapple with the evidence in the record indicating that Hill's perceived strengths were actually weaknesses.

          To the extent the Ohio courts addressed evidence in the record pointing to adaptive deficits, they turned to inapposite or irrelevant facts to "arbitrar[ily] offset[]" such evidence of deficits-a practice Moore expressly rejects. See 137 S.Ct. at 1050 n.8 ("[E]ven if clinicians would consider adaptive strengths alongside adaptive weaknesses within the same adaptive-skill domain, neither Texas nor the dissent identifies any clinical authority permitting the arbitrary offsetting of deficits against unconnected strengths in which the [Texas Court of Criminal Appeals] engaged."). For instance, the state trial court discounted evidence of Hill's

         "consistently poor" academic performance by pointing to evidence in the record that Hill was "a healthy boy described frequently by his teachers as lazy, who admits to experimenting with drugs and alcohol, who assaults the defenseless, steals frequently and lies a lot, " and who, by age 18, could "write in cursive, but prefer[red] to print." Hill, slip op. at 70. The trial court then pointed to a teacher's note, written in October 1981, describing Hill as "a bright, perceptive boy with high reasoning ability." Id. The Ohio appellate court summarized the evidence regarding Hill's childhood academic performance in similar terms, stating that "Hill's public school records amply demonstrate a history of academic underachievement and behavioral problems, " and noting that he "was described by at least one of his special education teachers as 'a bright perceptive boy with high reasoning ability.'" Hill, 894 N.E.2d at 124. The court also noted that while there "are references to Hill's being easily led or influenced by others, the trial court noted that much of Hill's serious misconduct, including two rapes committed prior to Fife's murder, occurred while he was acting alone." Id.

         The problems with the courts' analyses of Hill's academic performance are manifold. As the district court noted, "the court's finding that Hill 'underachieved' academically or in any other adaptive skill as a child is squarely contradicted by the record. This Court could not find one reference in Hill's school records by a teacher, school administrator, psychologist, psychiatrist, or anyone else suggesting that Hill was capable of performing at a substantially higher level but chose not to.'" Hill, 2014 WL 2890416, at *26. And as clinical guidelines have long recognized-and as the experts in this case testified-evidence of behavioral problems or a conduct disorder simply does not undermine a simultaneous finding of intellectual disability. See Atkins Hr'g Tr. at 475 (Hammer test.); id. at 959-60 (Huntsman test.); id. at 573 (Olley test.) ("[I]f he's having conduct problems in school, that's neither here nor there to a diagnosis of mental retardation."). The courts incorrectly discounted the fact that Hill was easily led because he committed crimes on his own. Under prevailing medical standards, however, Hill's prior criminal behavior should not be given weight in this analysis. Finally, the Ohio courts' focus on a note drafted by a teacher in a school for intellectually disabled children describing Hill as "'bright' and 'perceptive, ' with 'high reasoning ability'" was, as the district court put it, "almost cynical in its selective misrepresentation of the facts." Hill, 2014 WL 2890416, at *27. Throughout its opinion, the district court referred to certain findings and inferences by the Ohio courts as "troubling, " "irrelevant, " "problematic, " and "squarely contradicted by the record." Id. at **24-27.

         The Ohio courts' handling of evidence regarding self-care is equally troubling. The Ohio Court of Appeals' sole reference to Hill's deficits with regard to self-care was its summary of testimony provided by a prison official "that Hill's self-care was 'poor but not terrible' and that Hill had to be reminded sometimes about his hygiene." Hill, 894 N.E.2d at 125. Such a statement downplays the record's extensive chronicling of Hill's struggles with hygiene, including the fact that an individual education plan established for Hill when he was nearly fourteen years old included an "[a]nnual [g]oal and [o]bjective" of helping Hill "learn to shower when necessary" and to "put soiled clothing in the appropriate place." Atkins Hr'g Tr. at 147, 193 (Hammer test.).

         The state trial court also unduly relied on Hill's "initiative in coming to the police" after Fife's death, as well as his alleged efforts to misdirect the investigation and fabricate an alibi while under interrogation, as "evidence of Hill's ability concerning self-direction and self-preservation." See Hill, 2014 WL 2890416, at *33. As the district court noted, "'[s]elf-preservation' is not among the adaptive skills measured under the clinical definitions of intellectual disability, " and "self-direction" covers a host of behaviors-including "initiating activities appropriate to the setting" and "demonstrating appropriate assertiveness and self-advocacy skills"-either unrelated or directly contrary to Hill's decision to make contact with the police. Id. Contrary to the Ohio courts, the district court found Hill's "performance" during the police interrogation revealed him to be "childlike, confused, often irrational, and primarily self-defeating, " and characterized Hill's attempts to change his story under pressure as failing to "skillfully hid[e] his part" in Fife's death. Id. at *34. These actions were "quite the opposite of adaptive." Id. This is especially true where Hill's decision to approach the police did not "resolve his problems, " but "succeeded only in immediately drawing the police's attention to himself." Id.

         Hill's behavior during questioning also undermines the conclusion that he had strengths in self-direction. For example, Hill often changed his story or embellished his statements "at the slightest suggestion by the police, even when the information at issue was irrelevant or incriminating." Id. at *35. While the Ohio court focused on what it saw as Hill's abilities in the area of "self-direction" from around the time of the crime, it also ignored other evidence from around the same time illustrating that Hill had adaptive deficits. For example, at Hill's mitigation hearing, three psychologists testified that Hill was intellectually disabled at that time and had extremely poor adaptive functioning. On appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court and Court of Appeals found these psychologists' testimony credible and concluded that Hill was disabled. See State v. Hill, 595 N.E.2d 884, 901 (Ohio 1992); State v. Hill, Nos. 3720, 2745, 1989 WL 142761, at ** 6, 32 (Ohio Ct. App. Nov. 27, 1989).

         It is true, of course, that the state trial court expressly "relie[d] upon the expert opinion of Drs. Huntsman, Hancock and Olley to conclude" that Hill had failed to demonstrate adaptive deficits. Hill, slip op. at 81. We have previously denied Atkins relief in an AEDPA case arising out of Ohio where, as here, two of the three mental health experts testified that the petitioner was not intellectually disabled. O'Neal v. Bagley, 743 F.3d 1010, 1023 (6th Cir. 2013) ("With expert testimony split, as it often is, the state court chose to credit Dr. Chiappone and Dr. Nelson over Dr. Tureen, and we cannot say from this vantage that it was unreasonable to do so."). However, O'Neal is distinguishable on its facts and Hill's claim for Atkins relief is much stronger than the petitioner's claim in O'Neal. For example, in O'Neal there was insufficient evidence to prove that the petitioner met the first prong in demonstrating "significantly subaverage intellectual functioning." Id. at 1022. Here, by contrast, Hill's IQ is so low that the Warden concedes that Hill satisfies the first prong. Additionally, O'Neal's claim for Atkins relief also failed because his adaptive deficits may well have been better explained by his drug abuse and personality disorder rather than organic mental illness. Id. at 1022-23.

         Even though Atkins requires that determinations regarding intellectual disability be informed by the medical community, as discussed above, the Ohio courts should have rejected the expert testimony in this case. Requiring courts to be "informed by the medical community's diagnostic framework, " Moore, 137 S.Ct. at 1048 (quoting Hall, 134 S.Ct. at 2000), does not authorize courts to tether their decisions to expert opinions that depart from that "diagnostic framework." As Dr. Olley recognized, and as the clinical guidelines make clear, "the AAMR manual specifically says you would expect that individual[s] would have some relative strengths and some relative weaknesses." Atkins Hr'g Tr. at 557 (Olley test.). And yet neither Dr. Olley nor Dr. Huntsman appeared to apply this crucial aspect of the clinical guidelines in assessing Hill's ...

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