Hannah Hill

Hannah Hill

October 15, 2020

"It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong."

-Thomas Sowell

It was the 19th of May 1999. A Wednesday. Eighteen year old Hannah Hill lived with her parents in Akron, Ohio, United States. Hannah worked as a secretary for an ATM company and she was looking forward to starting college. When she got that job, she bought a car and it gave her independence and freedom. During the week, Hannah generally worked and met friends for quiet evenings watching television but at weekends, she loved to go out and have some fun.
Hannah Hill
Hannah Hill

 

That night, the 19th of May, Hannah got home from work and had dinner. After dinner, she spoke to one of her friends on the phone. It was just after 9pm and Hannah told her she had no plans for the rest of the night. She changed into her pajamas and was ready for bed. Hannah's mother, Kimberly, heard Hannah on the phone later that night and at 10.30pm, Hannah told her she was going out.

Kimberly thought she appeared disturbed about something when she left and she seemed in a rush but Hannah told her she would be home later.

Hannah Hill

Hannah Hill (on the right)

But there was no sign of Hannah later that night and by the next morning, Hannah had still not returned home. Hannah's family initially thought she may have stayed at a friend's house but when she didn't go to work that day, they were worried. They reported Hannah missing to police that evening, the evening of the 20th of May.

When police received the report, they weren't concerned. A lot of people Hannah's age take off for a day or two and go somewhere, either alone or with friends. Due to that, the report was not filed into their system. As a result of that, when police received a call about an abandoned car two days later, they did not connect the car with Hannah's disappearance. The abandoned car was Hannah's car and police issued it with a parking ticket. A few days later, police asked the media to notify the public that Hannah was missing. As soon as they did, police received a number of tips from the public and the tips were in relation to the abandoned car.

Hannah Hill Car

 

One week after Hannah went missing, on the 26th of May, police went back to the abandoned car. They opened the trunk of the car and found Hannah's body inside. She was naked from the waist down, and her bra was exposed. Her knees were bent and apart such that her genitals were on display when the police opened the trunk.

Hannah's pager and car keys were found inside the car. 

Police needed to establish where Hannah went after she left the house the night of the 19th of May. They spoke to her boyfriend, nineteen year old Brad O'Born. 

Brad O'Born

Brad O'Born

Before Hannah's body was found, Brad contacted the police to ask them what they were doing to find his girlfriend. When they met him, he had scratches on him. He told them he argued with Hannah a few days before she went missing. Due to that, when Hannah's body was found, he was one of the first people that police spoke to.

They discovered that Brad had verbally and physically abused Hannah in the past.   But despite those revelations, there was nothing that indicated that he had any involvement in Hannah's death.

The Autopsy revealed that Hannah had been beaten and strangled. The cause of death was determined as "asphyxia by manual compression." There were bruises on her back and bruises and cuts on her face. There was evidence that Hannah had sex prior to her death but it could not be determined whether it was consensual or not as there were no vaginal tears. However, due to the condition Hannah's body was in when found and how it was posed in a sexual manner, police believed that she had been raped. White residue was found on her lip and a bite mark on her arm. 

The investigation into Hannah's death led police to Denny Ross. Police knew Denny. He had sold cocaine to police informants and pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking. He was given probation instead of being sentenced to a term in prison. 

When police spoke to Denny at his apartment, he was wearing a cast at the time. He told police that he broke his arm in a fight.

Denny Ross

Denny Ross

He became a person of interest based on Hannah's phone records. Denny and Hannah were not good friend but they knew each other. Hannah had been to many parties that had taken place at Denny's apartment. When Hannah was missing, her friends asked Denny if he had heard from Hannah. He said no. But when police spoke to him, he admitted that he saw Hannah the night she went missing.

According to Denny, Hannah arrived at his apartment at 11pm the night of the 19th of May. He said that she was upset about Brad. He told police they kissed and stuff but that she left after midnight and he did not see or hear from her after that. As police had discovered that Hannah was there the night she went missing, they obtained a search warrant for his apartment. Police searched his home during the early morning hours of the 27th of May and found a garbage bag outside one of the windows. The bag contained Hannah’s underwear, pants, socks, shoes, and purse.

In June 1999, a grand jury indicted Denny on counts of aggravated murder, felony murder with kidnapping and/or rape as the predicate offense,  rape, kidnapping, tampering with evidence and gross abuse of a corpse. The aggravated murder count also contained two capital murder specifications due to the fact that the aggravated murder had occurred in connection with a rape and/or kidnapping.

Denny Ross

Denny Ross

It was the Prosecution's case that Denny raped and murdered Hannah. A police officer testified that when he was walking up the stairs to Denny's apartment, he heard a noise and believed it was the noise of the garbage bag being thrown out of the window.

It was the Prosecution's case that Denny choked Hannah. They told the Jury that she was beaten on the head and face and traces of sulfur and carbon were found in her facial wounds. They presented evidence that the cast Denny was wearing when they spoke to him was made of carbon and sulfur. 

 

It was the Defense's case that Denny was innocent and the garbage bag must have been planted there. They said he did not rape Hannah so had no motive to kill her. It was their case that Hannah was in an abusive relationship with Brad. They said that Brad fought with her, was jealous of her and was constantly angry at her. They told the Jury Brad had scratches all over him when Hannah went missing and they told the Jury that they would hear from witnesses who saw him drag her from her hair and hit her in the past.

When the case ended and the Jury began their deliberations, the Judge received a note from the foreperson. The note related to juror misconduct.

The note read as follows:

There is a concern about a Juror. I was approached by a spokesperson for 4 other Jurors. From comments made by this Juror these 4 Jurors feel that he is agreeing with the group to expidite (sic) this process. I was told by these Jurors that they (sic) following comments were made:1.) We need to get this done today. 2.) Why are we even discussing this.

He has stated all along that he believes one thing but has all to (sic) quickly changed his vote to go along with the group. This morning this Juror stated to me that we need to finish this today as he will be leaving after today because he has a problem at home but he did not want to put us in that position.To another Juror he made the comment that he knows that Brad O’Born was innocent because he passed a polygraph test so Denny Ross had to be guilty.

I have been asked if this Juror can be released so that he may tend to his affairs at home, and we can have an impartial and fair jury.

The Judge then asked both the Prosecution and the Defense whether they would consent to the discharge of the Jury. The Prosecution agreed on the basis that justice should be done and a fair Trial should be conducted. The Defense did not agree. They wanted a mistrial to be declared with prejudice. That would mean that their client could not face a retrial. The Judge declared a mistrial only.

That meant that the State could bring Denny to Court again to face a new Trial. 

 Hannah Hill

Hannah Hill

A number of Appeals followed. Denny challenged the propriety of a retrial in both state and federal court on the basis that if he was to face another Trial, it would be a case of Double Jeopardy. They discovered that in relation to the charges of aggravated murder, murder and rape, Jurors had already reached and signed Not Guilty verdicts at the first Trial. That was only discovered after the mistrial was declared. In 2002, the Court concluded that any retrial was barred based on:

the original trial judge had ordered a mistrial in the absence of a manifest necessity.
 
The State appealed and that decision was reversed. Denny could face a retrial and he went back to Court in 2012 to face the murder charges.
 
The Prosecution's case was considerably stronger at the retrial. DNA evidence on Hannah's clothes, under her fingernails and in the trunk of her car linked Denny to the crime. His blood was found in five different places on Hannah's panties and in three different spots on her pants. His semen was on the inside of Hannah's pants and on the back of her panties. Denny's DNA was found under the fingernails of Hannah's left hand. DNA found on Hannah’s shirt, which was still on her body, tested presumptively positive for blood and was consistent with his DNA profile.The panties and pants were found in the garbage bag that was found outside Denny's apartment.
 
The Prosecution described Denny as a man who liked to strangle women during sexual intercourse and they called one of his ex girlfriends, Heather Hamrick, to testify. She said that he would choke her during sex and afterwards, she would have bruises on her neck. She told the Court that he threatened to kill her while he was choking her.
Heather Hamrick
Heather Hamrick, Denny Ross's ex girlfriend
 
Julie Cain also testified on behalf of the Prosecution . She briefly dated Denny and testified that she was very reluctant to have sex with him because “he would talk about the ultimate orgasm, that being choking a woman out during the orgasm.”
 
The Prosecution outlined how Hannah died at the Trial. She sustained multiple injuries to her face as a result of blunt force trauma and died due to asphyxiation by manual compression of the neck. 
 
The Prosecution presented testimony that on the day the police arrested Denny, he had fresh scratch marks on the back of his neck.
 
The Defense's case was that Denny was innocent and had been set up by Hannah's boyfriend Brad. They described Brad to the Jury as an abusive, controlling man who killed Hannah. It was their case that he framed Denny for her murder when he discovered that they may have been romantically involved. 
Denny was found guilty of murder, felony murder with felonious assault as the predicate offense, tampering with evidence, gross abuse of a corpse, and felonious assault.
 
Denny was sentenced to life in prison, to serve a minimum term of 19 years. 

 

During the Trial, the Jury did not hear that Denny was already convicted of another crime but they did hear testimony from Jennifer Tittle.
 
When Denny was out on bond in relation to Hannah's case, he raped thirty two year old Jennifer Tittle and tried to kill her. In June 2004, Denny and Jennifer met at a bar and according to Jennifer, they did a lot of shots together. They had several beers at the bar and she invited him and her friends back to her house. But when they got back, Jennifer did not feel well and she asked everyone to leave. They all left except for Denny. He asked her if he could use the bathroom. She agreed. The bathroom was upstairs and after a while when Jennifer did not see Denny leave, she went upstairs to see if he was still there. 
 
When Jennifer reached the landing on her stairwell, Denny attacked her. He stabbed her in the face and wrestled her to the bottom of the stairs. He repeatedly punched her in the face using both of his fists. He punched her in the face with such severity that she was left with a broken jaw and collarbone.
 
Denny threatened to kill her and her children if she fought back. Jennifer tried to get away from him but he started choking her from behind while bumping up against her with his stomach and hips. He raped her at knifepoint.
Hannah Hill
 
Hannah Hill
 
Denny flipped Jennifer over and began choking her from the front. Jennifer testified that at that point she could not breathe and passed out a number of times. 
 
Jennifer got sick and he let go of her. She pretended to be dead and she testified that Denny said “Oh, f***, she’s dead. Not again.”
 

Denny kicked her a number of times but she didn't move and he left. Jennifer suffered nerve damage to her neck and a broken jaw, which had to be wired shut for six months.

Denny Ross

Denny Ross

When Denny faced Trial for attempted murder and rape in relation to Jennifer's case, he entered a plea of not guilty and told the Court that they had consensual sex. When asked to explain Jennifer's injuries, he said that she must have either fallen or was beaten up by someone else. He was found guilty  and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

At Denny's retrial in relation to Hannah's murder, he did not face rape charges.

Jennifer and Hannah were severely beaten before a sexual assault that occurred during manual strangulation. Both of them were strangled to the point that they lost consciousness. Jennifer survived but sadly Hannah did not and hearing Jennifer's testimony and the horrific ordeal she went through provides a small insight into the last harrowing hours of Hannah's life. 



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