By Kim Palmer
(Reuters) - A man accused of beating and strangling four rural Ohio men pleaded guilty to their murders on Wednesday and was sentenced to four consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Donald Hoffman, 41, was charged in September with the aggravated murder of the men, who were found in separate houses in the small central Ohio city of Bucyrus. His trial was scheduled to begin next week.
Hoffman pleaded guilty to killing Billy Jack Chatman, 55, Freelin Hensley, 67, Darrell Lewis, 65, and Gerald Lee Smith, 65, over the Labor Day weekend in Bucyrus, which has about 12,000 residents, is about 60 miles north of Columbus, Ohio.
Family members of the men addressed Hoffman at Wednesday's hearing before Judge Russell Wiseman imposed the life sentences in Crawford County Common Pleas Court.
Ken Hensley said Hoffman robbed him of the company of his brother. "What would ever make you want to do something like this?" Hensley said to Hoffman.
The killer knew some of the victims but his motive was unclear.
Wiseman called the killings heinous, reprehensible and despicable.
"I hope the words you heard here from the people you hurt are ringing in your ears for the rest of your life," Wiseman said. "This community bids you goodbye."
(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Editing by David Bailey and Doina Chiacu)