COLUMBUS, Ohio – An unemployed tree-cutter suspected in the deaths of three people whose dismembered bodies were found in a hollow tree has been charged with aggravated murder, burglary, kidnapping and rape, but a death sentence isn't being pursued at the wishes of the victims' families.
Matthew Hoffman could face life without the possibility of parole if convicted of killing Tina Herrmann; her son, Kody Maynard; and neighbor Stephanie Sprang, according to an indictment announced Tuesday.
The indictment alleges Hoffman committed the killings while he burglarized Herrmann's house Nov. 10 near a lakeside community about 60 miles from Columbus.
Hoffman was also charged with kidnapping a 13-year-old girl during the crime and later raping her at his home in Mount Vernon.
The Associated Press previously published the girl's name but is no longer identifying her because of the rape charge filed against Hoffman. The AP generally does not identify victims when sexual crimes are alleged.
The crimes that Hoffman is charged with could carry a possible death penalty, but Thatcher said those charges were not pursued "in accordance with the wishes of the victims' families."
Hoffman is also charged with tampering with evidence for allegedly taking clothes and bedding from Herrmann's house because he sought to remove them as possible evidence. He's also charged with abusing a corpse "because the victims' remains were not intact when recovered," Thatcher said.
Hoffman's attorney said Tuesday the charges weren't a surprise.
"There's really nothing in the indictment that came as a shock, based on what I had understood the state's position to be as to what had occurred," attorney Bruce Malek said.
He declined to comment on Thatcher's decision not to seek the death penalty.
Capital punishment is a rare occurrence in rural Knox County. A review of county court records by The Associated Press found only three defendants have faced charges there that could result in a sentence of death since Ohio's new death penalty law took effect in 1981.
Just one of those defendants was condemned to die, but he died in prison of natural causes in 2000.
Valerie Haythorn, a friend and co-worker of Herrmann, said Tuesday she was relieved charges had finally been filed.
"The best thing for him to do is just go in and plead guilty and be done with it," said Haythorn, manager at the Dairy Queen where Herrmann worked. "I'm glad that we're finally getting some kind of justice for the victims and the survivors."
It was Haythorn's trip to Herrmann's house the day after she failed to show up for work that alerted authorities that a possible crime had occurred.
Authorities said an unusual amount of blood was found Nov. 11 in the home of the 32-year-old Herrmann, where Sprang had been visiting, and the search for the four began.
The 13-year-old girl was found three days later in Hoffman's home. Authorities said he gave information that led investigators to the remains of the others Nov. 18 in a wildlife preserve.
Hoffman is being held in the Knox County jail on $1 million bond.
Authorities have not speculated on a motive. The sheriff has suggested that Hoffman, who spent six years in a Colorado prison for arson and other charges, had been watching the family for some time.
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