"God bless him!"
That was the reaction by former prosecutor Gerry D'Elia to the news that one of Utah's most notorious killers, Mark W. Hofmann, had apparently attempted suicide Thursday in his Utah State Prison cell.Hofmann's condition was upgraded Friday to serious but stable condition at University Hospital. "He is waking up, coming out of the coma," said hospital spokesman John Dwan. "He is moving, trying to sit up and move the things around him. He appears to be agitated and confused when he is awake."
D'Elia - who still fervently believes Hofmann should have been sentenced to death - wasn't alone in not feeling sorry for the convicted killer. Reaction from Hofmann's victims, as well as many investigators and prosecutors, was unequivocal: Hofmann deserved a death sentence for his crimes in the first place.
"It would be a relief for me if he died," said Terri Christensen Lauder, the widow of homicide victim Steven Christensen.
Reaction to Hofmann's suicide attempt was not all callous. Hofmann's attorney Ronald Yengich called for compassion for Hofmann and his family.
"One of the things people fail to realize is that he's a human being," Yengich said. "The mere fact that you go to prison doesn't mean people don't love you."
And from the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "We were saddened to learn of the latest tragedy in the life of Mark W. Hofmann. On behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we express our deepest sympathy and condolences to his family and loved ones who now, more than ever, will need the support of loving friends."
There is speculation that Hofmann's recent divorce from his wife may have prompted the depression, though Yengich said the divorce has been in the process for well over a year. "I don't think that has anything to do with it," he said.
Hofmann was taken off the respirator, could whisper and was relatively oriented. Doctors don't believe he suffered any brain damage.
Hofmann, who killed two people with homemade pipe bombs to divert attention from a litany of forgeries and frauds, was discovered comatose in his prison cell about 12:40 p.m. Thursday after his cellmate tried to awaken him for lunch. When Hofmann did not respond, the inmate immediately summoned prison authorities.
According to the cellmate, after dinner Wednesday
vening Hofmann went to bed, telling his cellmate not to wake him for breakfast in the morning. Hofmann said he wanted to sleep late.
The cellmate arose in the morning and left on a work detail, returning to the medium security cell in Oquirrh Block shortly after noon. He found Hofmann still in bed, apparently sleeping.
At the time, Hofmann was on administrative confinement to his cell as a punitive measure. Hofmann does not have a work assignment or assigned responsibilities at the prison.
"He is pretty much free to do what he wants in the confines of that facility," said Department of Corrections spokesman Juan Benavidez.
What Hofmann chose to do Wednesday was take an overdose of lethal drugs. But those who dealt with the cunning and brutality of Hofmann's crimes were far from sympathetic. Most described Hofmann as a coward.
"I guess when you're faced with the same cell day after day for the rest of your life, this is the chicken way out," said Salt Lake homicide Sgt. Don Bell.
"I'd never expect Mark Hofmann to put a bullet up his nose. I'd expect him to take pills," said D'Elia. "It's the easy way out. He didn't have the courage to face his victims so he killed them with bombs. He took the easy way out then, too."
"Mark Hofmann has always been a coward," said Salt Lake Police Lt. Steve Diamond, who headed the bombing investigation. "He has always been a liar and will be to the day he does die."
Hofmann, 33, is serving two 5-years-to-life sentences for the October 1985 pipe-bomb murders of Steven Christensen and Kathleen Webb Sheets. He was also serving time for individual counts of communications fraud and theft by deception.
From 1980 to 1985, Hofmann discovered and sold letters and other documents - some of them controversial - to various collectors, including his own church and its leaders.
Hofmann's double life began to unravel in the fall of 1985 when he was unable to deliver the promised McLellin Collection - a nonexistent cache of documents supposedly collected by early Mormon apostle William McLellin.
Hofmann was charged with dozens of felonies in connection with the murders, frauds, forgeries and bomb constructions. After a plea bargain to four felonies (a plea bargain many considered too soft), the Board of Pardons ordered Hofmann to serve the rest of his natural life in prison.
He went to prison upon his sentencing Jan. 23, 1987, and has reportedly adapted well to prison life. Those who visited Hofmann recently reported he was not depressed or suicidal.
According to prison authorities, medical personnel responded immediately to Hofmann's cell upon the report and determined he had probably succumbed to a drug overdose. A helicopter ambulance from University Hospital was summoned at 12:57 p.m.
The Air-Med helicopter arrived back at the hospital at 1:33 p.m. where Hofmann was immediately placed on a respirator. "He cannot breathe on his own," Dwan said.
Hofmann was admitted with what doctors thought were burns to his right forearm and chest. But Friday they confirmed that he may have lain comatose in one position for so long that the blood supply to the right side was reduced, causing some muscle injury. Doctors, however, are uncertain of the exact cause of the skin aberration.
Just what drugs caused Hofmann's overdose is not known. A blood analysis conducted shortly after Hofmann's arrival indicated he had toxic levels of an anti-depressant. Prison officials, however, said Hofmann was periodically prescribed sleeping pills - a depressant drug.
Hofmann apparently also was receiving pain medication for a knee injury he received in a third bomb blast.
"His stomach was pumped in the emergency room," said Dwan. "The lab tests show his blood contained toxic (levels of) tricyclic drugs, but the lab tests can't determine what the specific drugs are."
It is not known whether Hofmann obtained illicit drugs from someone inside the prison or whether he hoarded a stash of officially prescribed medications from the prison pharmacy, said Warden Gerald Cook.
"I didn't even know he was on anti-depressants," said Yengich. "I had no indication Mark was any more depressed than any other inmate serving a life sentence at the Utah State Prison."
Hofmann's suicide attempt came as a surprise to many who believed Hofmann was adapting well to prison life. Deputy County Attorney Robert Stott, who helped prosecute Hofmann, referred to Hofmann as a chameleon who could immediately change his colors to adapt to his surroundings.
"I thought he would adapt well to prison," said Stott. "(Adaptation) was the story of his life. But maybe Mark Hofmann discovered life in prison was a fate worse than the death penalty."