Much of the prosecution’s closing arguments Monday in the retrial of Denny Ross concentrated on what they called “a haystack of DNA evidence” that they say directly links him to the 1999 Hannah Hill slaying.
In the first segment of the state’s closing argument, a Summit County jury heard prosecutors say they presented evidence showing Ross’ blood, semen and skin cells were found on Hill’s body and were confirmed as such through sophisticated DNA tests not available at the time of the slaying.
Hill, they asserted, was killed in Ross’ filthy Springfield Township apartment during a violent sexual struggle on the night of May 19, 1999.
The government’s argument pointed, in particular, to semen evidence found on her underwear.
“How did it get there?” Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor Matthew Meyer said, posing the question to the jury. “It didn’t leap off the ground or transfer. She didn’t get it when she sat on his couch, filthy and disgusting as it was.
“It got there,” he continued, “in the old-fashioned way — the way semen always comes from a man who gets on a woman.”
After nearly a full day of closing arguments by both sides, encompassing 4½ hours, the jury was given the case at 3:35 p.m. by Common Pleas Judge Judy Hunter.
A foreman then was chosen, and the jury was sent home for the day at 4:40 p.m. without a verdict.
Moments before the prosecutor went into detail about the semen evidence, he told the jury it was there when Hill already was beaten and incapacitated leading up to her death, autopsy results showed, by strangulation.
Meyer also told the jury DNA scientists found and identified Ross’ blood on the left armpit of a shirt Hill was wearing when she went missing, along with his DNA cells underneath an autopsy clipping of a fingernail on her left hand.
“All that blood, semen, [and] skin cells were on her body,” Meyer said minutes before concluding, “because of what Denny Ross did to her that night.”
The DNA evidence traced back to Ross, Meyer stressed, should provide a clear answer to the question of who killed Hannah Hill.
And he lashed out at the long-held defense argument that none of Ross’ DNA was ever uncovered in Hill’s car, where her body was found by police one week after she went missing.
“It’s there,” Meyer told the jury. “It’s there in the exact place it shouldn’t be” — on her body, in the car, under her armpit, he said.
The first trial of Ross, in October 2000, ended in a mistrial after the jury signed verdict forms finding him not guilty of aggravated murder, murder and rape.
He is charged in his retrial with two counts of murder, tampering with evidence, abuse of a corpse and felonious assault.
He is not facing any charges related to sexual crimes in the retrial, now beginning its seventh week.
Ross, 33, is serving a 25-year prison sentence for his 2004 crimes against another Akron woman while he was free on bond during the protracted appeals of the mistrial ruling.
His lead defense counsel, Roger Synenberg of Cleveland, began his closing argument later Monday morning.
After a 45-minute lunch break, Synenberg was allowed to continue, and when he came back in the afternoon he departed from his blueprint – computerized notes on a laptop at the courtroom podium – and began asking the jury questions without any notes.
Synenberg started by stressing that prosecutors must present clear and convincing evidence to convince the panel beyond a reasonable doubt that Ross, in fact, killed Hill.
With that backdrop, he asked the jury to consider this prosecution assertion: “So when they said there was a violent sexual struggle, then she was beaten and strangled, where was the blood?”
Synenberg said none of Hill’s blood or DNA was ever found inside Ross’ apartment during the original crime scene investigation. And in the 13 years that followed, he said, there were no prosecution revelations that it ever was.
Synenberg’s next assertion was that Hill had a cut to the back of her skull, nearly two inches long, which forensic pathologists described as an “ante-mortem” injury – meaning it occurred before the onset of death.
Under that forensic finding, the cut naturally would have generated a lot of blood, Synenberg said, because of “the thumping of her heart.”
“So when they said there was a violent sexual struggle,” he argued, repeating his earlier contention, “there’s no evidence of that” because Hill’s blood has never been found inside the apartment.
“Think about that,” Synenberg urged the panel. “The state told you that the DNA paints a clear picture. Hardly.
“And when the state suggested to you that you need to reconcile the DNA evidence, no, you don’t. At this point in time,” Synenberg said, “they have to provide you with a clear account of what happened on May 19 and May 20 [of 1999].
“They have to present [it to] you. You don’t have to do the work. You shouldn’t. They have to present it to you.”
The jury is scheduled to return to court this morning to continue deliberations.
Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or email@example.com.