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Man gets life without parole in gruesome Ohio murders

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Grisly murders get man life in prison
  • Matthew Hoffman enters guilty pleas in November killings
  • He admitted to killing two women and an 11-year-old boy
  • Defendant said he entered home to commit theft
  • He also kidnapped a 13-year-old girl from the home

See local coverage of this story at CNN affiliate WSYX

(CNN) -- An Ohio man pleaded guilty Thursday and was sentenced to life without parole for killing and dismembering a woman, her son and her friend and hiding their bagged remains in the hollow of a tree.

Matthew Hoffman, 30, pleaded guilty to all 10 counts, including three counts of aggravated murder and the kidnapping of one of the victim's 13-year-old relatives, in Knox County, Ohio, in November.

According to his attorney, Hoffman said he committed the crimes after encountering Tina R. Herrmann when he entered the house during a burglary attempt.

But the sister of Stephanie Sprang, one of the other victims, said there was no excuse for him killing Herrmann and waiting for the other victims to come to the house.

"Death is too easy for him and we would rather pay tax dollars and let him suffer and live and deal with what he did every day," Sherrie Baxter told CNN affiliate WSYX.

Father of victim: 'I'm satisfied'
3 bodies, dog found in hollow tree
Family dismembered, stuffed in tree

The remains of Herrmann, 31, her son, Kody, and Stephanie Sprang, 41, were found November 18 in a rural area after they had been missing 10 days from Herrmann's home. Autopsy results indicated they had been stabbed to death and dismembered.

Hoffman, who worked as a tree trimmer, was indicted Monday and the plea and sentencing agreement were detailed during a hearing Thursday.

"The indictment alleges that Hoffman purposely caused the deaths of Tina R. Herrmann, Ms. Herrmann's son Kody Maynard, age 11, and her neighbor Stephanie L. Sprang, on November 10, 2010," prosecutors said about the indictment. "The aggravated murder charges further allege that Hoffman murdered the victims while he was committing the offense of aggravated burglary in Herrmann's residence."

The indictment did not include death penalty specifications, authorities said, "in accordance with the wishes of the victim's families."

CNN left a message for Hoffman's attorney, Bruce Malek, who told WSYX that Hoffman had remorse for what he did and felt it was important for the victims' remains to be found. Police previously had said Hoffman provided information leading to the recovery of the remains.

The 13-year-old girl was found bound and gagged in the basement of Hoffman's home in Mount Vernon, Ohio, about 20 miles from Herrmann's home in Howard, Ohio. Hoffman was charged with one count of rape for allegedly assaulting the girl, prosecutors said.

Besides the aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, kidnapping and rape charges, Hoffman faced a charge of tampering with evidence for allegedly removing some clothing and bedding from Herrmann's residence in order to hinder the investigation, authorities said.

He also pleaded guilty to three counts of abuse of a corpse. Prosecutors those charges were filed because "the victims' remains were not intact when recovered by authorities in a hollow tree" in Kokosing Lake State Wildlife Area.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, in a statement read by Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher, the girl said: "This has changed my whole life and my family's life, too." In the statement, the teen related memories of the victims and said she's no longer frightened of Hoffman.

"This is so sickening, Matthew, to know you even had the guts to do this to a family," she said in the statement.

Herrmann failed to report to work at a Dairy Queen in Mount Vernon on November 10, Knox County Sheriff David Barber told CNN affiliate WBNS. A deputy twice went to her home and saw her pickup truck there. No one answered the door, though lights were on in the home.

Later in the week, blood was found in the home, leading authorities to suspect foul play.

Sprang's father, Steve Thompson, said he was satisfied with the sentence.

"They are many answers that I still need," he told WSYX. "I am confident and sure we will find them later on down the road."