Ohio man admits killing 4 last year

A prosecutor said accepting Donald Hoffman's guilty plea to four killings in return for a life sentence spares the victims' families the ordeal of lengthy appeals.

By Frances Burns

BUCYRUS, Ohio, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- A Bucyrus, Ohio, man admitted Wednesday that he killed four other men during a spree last year.

Donald Hoffman, 41, entered a guilty plea to four counts of aggravated murder. He was immediately sentenced to four life terms and can never be paroled.


The victims, Freelin Hensley, 67, Billy Jack Chatman, 55, Darrel Lewis, 65, and Jerald Smith, 65, were all beaten or strangled in their homes. Hoffman was seeking money to buy cocaine and also believed one of the victims was a romantic rival, investigators said.

Hoffman went to police in early September and helped them find two of the bodies. A neighbor described him last year as the "town drunk" and investigators said his victims also had substance abuse problems.

Matthew Crall, Crawford County prosecutor, said he agreed not to seek the death penalty in return for the guilty plea. Crall said he discussed his choices with the victims' families.

"I've talked with all the family members. We even had some people fly in," Crall told the Bucyrus Telegraph-Forum on Tuesday. "I think the biggest issue is a plea allows closure. It severely limits any appeals. I think most of the victims' families remember the Kevin Keith case, and I think they know what those family members went through."


Keith spent years on death row after being convicted of killing three people in Bucyrus in 1994. Then-Gov. Ted Strickland commuted his sentence in 1994.

Hoffman's trial was scheduled to begin Jan. 20. He said he wanted to spare Bucyrus, a small city in central Ohio, the burden of trying him.

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