COLUMBUS - The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday closed the door to death-row inmate Timothy Hoffner's attempt to reopen his state appeals in the 1993 buried-alive murder of Christopher Hammer in Sylvania Township.
Hoffner, 35, had tried to argue that his appellate lawyer had been ineffective, but he was rebuffed by the Toledo-based 6th District Court of Appeals because he waited five years too long to raise the issue. The state's high court has agreed, saying Hoffner can't point to his own lack of legal expertise as an excuse for missing a critical deadline.
"Hoffner offers no sound reason why he, unlike so many other Ohio criminal defendants, could not comply with that fundamental aspect of the rule," the court wrote.
The Supreme Court upheld Hoffner's conviction and death sentence nearly three years ago after he and accomplice Archie K. Dixon, now 33, severely beat Mr. Hammer, 22, and led him to a wooded area. They allowed him to smoke a cigarette and say a prayer before they buried him alive.
Both men were convicted of aggravated murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and forgery and are on death row at the Ohio State Penitentiary at Youngstown while pursuing their federal appeals.
Hoffner's new Cleveland attorney, David Doughten, said the issue of ineffectiveness of appellate counsel was raised in an appeal pending before U.S. District Judge James Gwin. The issue, however, was sent back to the 6th District because the state court had not had an opportunity to address this argument.
But the lower court refused to hear it, citing a rule that required Hoffner to ask to reopen his appeals within 90 days of the court's initial decision in 2001 rejecting his appeals. Mr. Doughten said the case will return to federal court, where Hoffner will challenge this ruling as well as raise other issues.