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Ohio man charged with killing 4 in different homes

Published: Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014 10:00 a.m. CDT
In this photo taken on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014, police tape cordons off a home in Bucyrus, Ohio, where one of four men were found beaten to death Monday. Authorities in the northern Ohio town are asking for the public's help in solving the slayings of four men, between the ages of 50 and 70, who where were found beaten to death in separate homes this week. (AP Photo/News Journal, Daniel Melograna)

BUCYRUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio man was charged with aggravated murder Thursday in the slayings of four men who were found beaten in separate homes earlier this week.

Donald Hoffman had been in custody since Tuesday. The charges against the 41-year-old were announced during what had been a scheduled hearing on an alleged probation violation.

He was ordered held on a $10 million bond — $2.5 million for each alleged slaying. Authorities said they expected the case would be presented to a grand jury Monday.

Hoffman appeared in Crawford County Municipal Court via video feed. He sat in an orange jail outfit and spoke only when the judge asked him if he understood the proceedings. He said he did.

The judge said he was appointing an attorney to represent him.

The bodies of 55-year-old Billy Jack Chatman and 67-year-old Freelin Hensley were discovered Monday in this town of 12,000 residents about 65 miles north of Columbus. Then on Tuesday, the bodies of 65-year-old Darrell Lewis and 65-year-old Gerald Lee Smith were found.

Bucyrus police Chief Dave Koepke noted at least one gruesome commonality: "All the victims suffered." Koepke said each man had trauma above the shoulders, but he wouldn't give specifics.

Brenda Lauthers, a Bucyrus resident whose brother was among the slain men, said that she found a frying pan in a bathroom sink near his body and that the family of another victim told her that man apparently was hit with a hammer. Police refused to discuss those kinds of details, citing the ongoing investigation.

Crawford County Sheriff Scott Kent, whose office is assisting local police, said Wednesday that Hoffman gave some information as to why the killings occurred, but authorities weren't releasing the details.

The town is unaccustomed to violent crime but doesn't shy from discussing what residents and police describe as prevalent drug problems, especially with heroin.

Some residents said after the slayings that they were worried about their safety. Neighbors of some of the victims said they were reluctant to talk publicly about the men because they worried the case somehow was connected to the city's drug problems and feared potential retribution.


Associated Press writer Jennifer Smola contributed to this report from Columbus.

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