The Denny Ross murder case stretched the limits of the state judiciary system for 13 years.
From the week Hannah Hill’s body went ignored by Akron police in 1999 to the signed jury verdict forms in 2000 acquitting Ross of her murder, to the years of appeals that followed and finally to a second trial this fall.
It all ended Tuesday.
A jury this month convicted Ross of the slaying of the Kenmore woman. On Tuesday, a Summit County judge gave Ross the maximum possible penalty for murder, tampering with evidence and abuse of a corpse.
Calling Ross’ crimes the “most heinous” she has seen in her 16 years as a judge, Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter gave Ross a life sentence with no eligibility for 19 years.
She further pushed the possible end date well into the future by ordering the sentence to be served at the conclusion of the 25-year sentence Ross received in 2004 for raping an Akron woman while on bond appealing the outcome of the first Hill trial.
Hunter gave Ross 841 days of jail credit — constituting the time he was jailed awaiting trial for Hill’s killing in 1999 and 2000 and partially in 2004.
Once all the math is figured, Ross will be eligible for parole sometime in 2046. He will be 67 years old. His lawyers noted that convicted murderers rarely received parole after their first hearing.
The sentence was exactly what Hill’s family and Assistant Prosecutors Matthew Meyer and Anna Faraglia had asked for during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.
Elza Hill, 73, the victim’s father, and his son, Justin, spoke before the judge’s sentence was handed down.
“It was a shame the way her life was taken,” an emotional Elza Hill said.
At one point, Justin Hill, 34, demanded Ross look at him. Ross turned his head for a minute as Hill’s brother condemned Ross’ actions.
“There’s no remorse in your face at all,” he said.
Afterward, Justin Hill told reporters he waited 13 years to look in Ross’ face and share his thoughts and grief.
“Sixty-seven years old he’ll be up for parole, and I don’t think he’ll get it,” Justin Hill said.
Hill went missing on the night of May 19, 1999, after leaving her parents’ home in Akron following dinner to visit Ross at his apartment in Springfield Township.
She was 18 and was scheduled the next morning to start a full-time secretarial job at Diebold.
Akron police’s call center ignored at least five calls from neighbors on Caine Road alerting them Hill’s car was on their street.
Ross’ first trial, in October 2000, ended in a mistrial after the jury signed verdict forms finding him not guilty of murder, aggravated murder and rape. He had faced a potential death sentence, if convicted.
Protracted appeals followed the mistrial ruling, which came amid claims of a juror’s misconduct for discussing facts he heard that were reported only in the newspaper. The retrial lasted seven weeks.
Ross, chained at the hands and ankles and dressed in a striped jail uniform, declined to speak prior to the sentence. Last spring, he rejected a plea deal, declaring his innocence and defiantly telling the judge he found the offer “insulting.”
One offer called for his guilty plea to murder in exchange for a life sentence and a first chance for parole in 2029. The other required guilty pleas to manslaughter, tampering with evidence and felonious assault for a 25-year sentence that would run concurrently to the rape case. Essentially, that plea would have guaranteed Ross’ release in 42 years.
His trial attorneys, Roger Synenberg and Larry Whitney, promised an appeal would be filed and will focus on DNA evidence, both tested and untested. Such appeals rarely are successful.
The defense attorneys also said Ross was prepared for a harsh sentence from Hunter.
“We expected a long sentence, Denny expected a long sentence, but we think we’ll live to fight another day,” Synenberg said. “We hope, in some respects, that this brought the victim’s family, Hannah Hill, some peace, but we’re going to continue to pursue the rights of our client.”
Elza Hill and his wife, Kimberly, mingled in the courtroom, thanking police, prosecutors and friends and family. After Ross left the courtroom, Hunter spoke to the Hill family from her bench, wishing them well and hoping they find peace.
The gallery for Tuesday’s hearing included Hannah Hill’s friends, three jurors from Ross’ latest trial and a battery of Akron police officers who worked the case for more than a decade.
“I’m glad it’s over with, and I think the judge made the right decision,” Elza Hill said. “At least he won’t be on the street for a while to murder somebody else.”
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or email@example.com.