Prosecutor: Ohio man on cocaine binge killed 4, seeking money

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Prosecutor: Ohio man on cocaine binge killed 4, seeking money
Donald Hoffman, 41, stands between defense attorneys Robert Whitney, left, and Rolf Whitney as he pleads guilty to aggravated murder in a deal with prosecutors Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, in Bucyrus, Ohio. Hoffman, charged with killing four men last fall while on a cocaine binge, was sentenced to life in prison. (AP Photo/Kantele Franko)
Donna Hardymon, left, addresses the court with support from a victim advocate at a hearing for Donald Hoffman, second from right, Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015 in Bucyrus, Ohio. Hoffman, who who was charged with killing Hardymon's father and three other men, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated murder in a plea deal. (AP Photo/Kantele Franko)
FILE-This undated file photo provided by Crawford County, Ohio, Sheriffs Office shows Donald Hoffman. Police records show one of four men found slain at their homes in a small Ohio city had sought help two days earlier for the man now charged in the killings. Billy Jack Chatman told Bucyrus police two days before he was found dead that he had called an ambulance for Donald Hoffman against Hoffman’s wishes after the man collapsed on his floor. The bodies of Chatman and another man were found Sept. 1. Two other bodies were found the next day. Hoffman has been indicted on charges including aggravated murder and robbery. His arraignment is scheduled for Monday. (AP Photo/Crawford County Ohio Sheriff Office, File)

BUCYRUS, Ohio (AP) -- 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."

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