BUCYRUS, Ohio – A man on a cocaine binge fatally beat or strangled four others at their homes -- in one case, using his own shoestrings -- then walked into the police station to confess after recognizing one victim's relatives in a newspaper photo, a prosecutor said Wednesday after the defendant was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Donald Hoffman apparently was high and looking to steal money for more drugs when he killed the men last fall in the small, north-central Ohio city of Bucyrus, Crawford County Prosecutor Matthew Crall said. Hoffman used whatever means were available, stomping on one man's throat and striking another with a bottle, Crall said.
Hoffman, 41, pleaded guilty Wednesday to four counts of aggravated murder in a deal with prosecutors, days before his scheduled trial in the potential death penalty case. In exchange, they dropped remaining charges.
Hoffman wore an orange prison outfit and kept his hands folded in his lap, showing no emotion beyond his perpetual frown. When the judge asked if he understood he was pleading guilty in four murders, Hoffman replied plainly: "That's exactly what I'm doing, sir."
Hoffman said he made the plea agreement to spare the community a trial. He offered no explanation for the slayings and declined an opportunity to further address the court.
About three dozen relatives of the victims attended the hearing, and a few told the judge they had hoped Hoffman would face execution. One victim's daughter called Hoffman heartless.
"You don't deserve to be living while my dad is in the ground," Macy Chatman said in court. "I pray you live a very lonely and painful life."
Hoffman's extended family also thought he deserved to die, said Laura Reed, who identified herself as Hoffman's cousin and his only relative attending the hearing. His adoptive parents are deceased, and his sister didn't attend the hearing, said Reed, who was there partly to see whether Hoffman showed remorse.
"It would've been nice if he would have said, `I'm sorry,"' Reed said, adding that she never wants to see him again.
The plea deal, which restricts potential appeals, could provide some closure for the victims' families, the prosecutor said. Crall said Ohio's moratorium on executions and other concerns related to the status of the death penalty in the state factored into discussions about Hoffman, who wanted to plead from the outset.
Friends and relatives said at least some of the slain men knew each other and Hoffman.
Two bodies were found Sept. 1, and two more were discovered the next day after Hoffman approached police. Authorities identified them as Billy Jack Chatman, 55; Freelin Hensley, 67; Darrell Lewis, 65; and Jerald Smith, 65, whose relatives said he sometimes spelled his first name Gerald.
Most of those in court Wednesday seemed eager to be rid of Hoffman, including the judge.
"I hope the words you've heard from the people you've hurt ring in your ears for the rest of your life," Judge Russell Wiseman said. He said describing the crimes as heinous or despicable isn't sufficient, and that Hoffman's one slightly redeeming act was taking responsibility for the slayings.
"Mr. Hoffman," the judge said, "this community bids you goodbye."