Man pleads not guilty to aggravated murder, other charges in slayings of 4 men in Ohio town

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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)


COLUMBUS, Ohio — A man charged in the slayings of four men found at their separate homes in the small Ohio city of Bucyrus pleaded not guilty Monday.

Donald Hoffman, 41, wore an orange jail outfit and handcuffs as he appeared in Crawford County court, where he was jailed on $10 million bond. One of his attorneys declined to comment after the arraignment on aggravated murder, robbery and other charges.

The Bucyrus man is charged with 21 counts, including some with specifications for a potential death penalty.

Two men were discovered dead Sept. 1 at their homes. Two more bodies were found the next day after police say Hoffman approached officers with information.

A coroner determined the men were beaten, strangled or both. Authorities said investigators talked with Hoffman for hours, but they wouldn't discuss those conversations or other aspects of the investigation while working to establish a timeline and motive for the slayings.

In each slaying, Hoffman is charged with two counts of aggravated murder and single counts of aggravated robbery, kidnapping and felonious assault. He also faces one count of abuse of a corpse.

Friends and relatives say at least some of the men knew each other and Hoffman. Police records show one of the men, 55-year-old Billy Jack Chatman, had called an ambulance days earlier for Hoffman after Hoffman entered Chatman's house and collapsed on the floor, bloody and smelling of alcohol after an apparent assault.

The other victims included Freelin Hensley, 67, and Darrell Lewis, 65. The fourth victim was Gerald Lee Smith, 65, who sometimes spelled his first name Jerald.

The slayings represent unusually violent crimes in Bucyrus, a city of about 12,000 people roughly 65 miles north of Columbus where officials acknowledge prevalent drug problems.

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