- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A change-of-plea hearing has been scheduled for a man accused of killing four men at their homes in a small, north-central Ohio city, after an expert concluded he was competent to stand trial.

The hearing for Donald Hoffman is set for Wednesday, days before the scheduled trial in the potential death penalty case in Bucyrus. The judge’s hearing order, issued last week, indicated a potential plea deal was reached but provided no details.

Hoffman, 41, previously pleaded not guilty on 21 counts, including aggravated murder and robbery.

Messages left Monday for Hoffman’s attorneys, Rolf Whitney and Robert Whitney, and Crawford County Prosecutor Matthew Crall weren’t immediately returned.

A coroner determined the four men found dead in September were beaten, strangled or both. They ranged in age from 55 to 67, and friends and relatives said at least some of them knew Hoffman.

Two men were discovered dead Sept. 1. Two more bodies were found the following day after Hoffman approached officers with information, police said.

Investigators were reluctant to publicly discuss potential motives for the slayings. It was an unusually violent series of crimes in Bucyrus, a city of roughly 12,000 people where the prevalence of drug problems is no secret.

Police records show one of the slain 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.

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