A Centereach man has admitted to beating a friend to death with a baseball bat when they were both 16 and later burying and then digging up his victim’s remains to move to a neighbor’s yard.
John Mann IV, now 20, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter in exchange for a 20-year prison sentence at a hearing before Acting Superior Court Judge Anthony Senft in Riverhead on Friday.
Mann, who was previously charged with second-degree murder, admitted to killing Henry Hernandez after taking Mann’s father’s pickup truck and damaging it.
Mann later asked Hernandez to meet him at a “sandbox” less than a mile from his home, where he was waiting with duct tape and a baseball bat, he admitted during Friday’s hearing.
WHAT TO KNOW
- John Mann IV of Centereach pleaded guilty to manslaughter on Friday in the beating of a friend when the two were 16 years old.
- Mann was facing 25 years to life in prison on a charge of second-degree murder, but his plea agreement limits his maximum prison time to 20 years.
- At his plea hearing, Mann admitted to killing Henry Hernandez baseball bat, buried his body, then moved the remains to a neighbor’s property nine months later.
“The violent end of this young victim’s life and the manner in which his body was disposed of demonstrates the cold-blooded and brutal nature of the defendant,” Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said in a statement. “What makes this murder even sadder is that the victim, Henry, was only 16 years old and had her whole life ahead of her.”
Mann’s defense attorney, Matthew Rosenblum of Commack, described his client as “a special kid who made a terrible mistake.”
“It’s a very difficult case,” he said. “We want to thank the district attorney’s office for seeing fit to prosecute this as a manslaughter rather than a murder.”
Hernandez made headlines when he was reported missing from the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch in Riverhead, a Christian residential and workforce development home for troubled youth, in August 2019. Riverhead police said at the time that he had not been seen since June.
Suffolk Police then announced they had found skeletal remains and clothing in a yard on Jay Road in Centereach the following March, which they later confirmed tthrough DNA testing it belonged to Hernandez.
Mann, who lived a few doors down from where Hernandez’s remains were discovered, was charged with the killing in June.
Under questioning from Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Frank Schroeder at Friday’s hearing, Mann confirmed that he met Hernandez while they were in the psychiatric unit at Brunswick Hospital Center in Amityville.
Both were released from there in March 2019 and continued to spend time together at Mann’s home and his high school, Mann said. Later that month, Hernandez damaged Mann’s father’s pickup truck, upsetting Mann and his father, officials said.
On June 2, 2019, Hernandez agreed to meet Mann in a “sandbox,” where Mann tied duct tape around Hernandez’s ankles, wrists and face, he said.
“Did you hit him repeatedly in the head and body with a baseball bat?” Schroeder asked.
“I did,” Mann replied, saying that his intention was to kill his friend.
Hernandez’s body was thrown into a pre-dug hole and covered with debris, where it remained until March 15, 2020, when Mann returned to dig it up, he admitted. Mann packed Hernandez’s remains into plastic bags and placed them in a bin, moving them to a neighbor’s property, where they were found that day, more than nine months after the murder.
Prosecutors said Mann had her sister help move the remains, but Schroeder told Senft she does not face criminal charges.
Mann also pleaded guilty Friday to tampering with physical evidence, for which he will be sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison, concurrent with the 20-year sentence for manslaughter. A third charge of concealing a human corpse was dismissed as part of the deal.
Mann’s father and grandmother attended Friday’s hearing but declined to speak to the media.
No one from Hernandez’s family was present. Prosecutors said his father is deceased and his mother lives outside the United States.
Rosenblum, assisted by attorney Rudolph Migliore of Commack, said he hopes Mann will get a second chance at life. He said his client had been admitting to the crime since his arrest and Friday’s hearing was a “clearance” that allowed him to plead guilty.
“I have no doubt that he will be a respected member of society when he gets out,” Rosenblum said.
Mann is scheduled to be sentenced on April 19.