Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Murder plea ends anguish

Family tormented for 20 years over mom's death

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Margaret Casserly was surprised to find a message on her answering machine in April from a Hamilton County prosecutor.

        She had left the county years ago and had never been in trouble. She figured the call was some kind of mistake.

        “It's about your mother,” the prosecutor explained when she called back.

        “Someone's confessed.”

        Until that call, Ms. Casserly had given up hope anyone would be punished for killing her mother, Betty Hoffmann, 20 years ago as she walked her dog in Winton Woods.

        Ms. Casserly's long wait ended Monday when Michael Proffitt pleaded guilty to the crime in Common Pleas Court.

        “It's hard to believe anyone would choose to kill my mother,” said Ms. Casserly, of Chicago.

        Mr. Proffitt, 40, admitted he shot Mrs. Hoffmann in the back while she walked her dog in the woods. Prosecutors say the London, Ky., man intended to sexually assault the 55-year-old Greenhills woman when he approached her July 7, 1980. They say he shot her when she tried to run.

        Ms. Casserly, the youngest of Mrs. Hoffmann's three children, said Mr. Proffitt's confession ends years of pain and uncertainty for her family.

        “To have it all brought up again is upsetting and sad,” she said. “But it's good to know there will be justice.

        “I'm glad to have it over with.”

        News of Mr. Proffitt's arrest in April was shocking because her mother's case had remained a mystery for so long, she said.

        Police had no good suspects or evidence. Their best theory was that Mrs. Hoffmann had been struck by a stray bullet fired by some juvenile delinquents in the woods.

        The mystery unraveled in April when Mr. Proffitt called the Kentucky State Police to say he wanted to confess to a murder in Cincinnati.

        “The defendant was anxious to confess,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said. “He gave a full statement.”

        Ms. Casserly said she's certain Mr. Proffitt has “suffered through the years.” But she said she doesn't know why he would hurt her mother.

        “I think it was more stupidity than anything,” she said.

        Mr. Proffitt, who is 5-foot-6 and weighs 106 pounds, looked frail as he stood in court Monday next to his attorney, John Keller. When Judge Fred Cartolano asked whether he understood his plea, Mr. Proffitt nodded.

        “Yes. Yes, I do,” he said.

        Mr. Proffitt's relatives have said he has a history of psychiatric problems. He was a recent graduate of special-education classes at Greenhills High School at the time of Mrs. Hoffmann's death.

        Mr. Proffitt agreed to plead guilty to aggravated murder after prosecutors dropped a charge of attempted rape. He will face 15 years to life in prison when he returns to court for sentencing Sept. 25.

        Outside the courtroom, Ms. Casserly said she will not recommend a sentence.

        “I don't want to be the one that judges,” she said. “I was finished with my grieving years ago.”


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