John Mann IV of Centereach pleaded guilty Friday in the...

John Mann IV of Centereach pleaded guilty Friday in the death of Henry Hernandez, who had been missing from the Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch for nearly three years before his remains were found. Credit: John Roca

A Centereach man admitted beating a friend to death with a baseball bat when they were both 16 years old and later burying and then digging up his victim’s remains to move them 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 Supreme Court Justice Anthony Senft in Riverhead Friday.

Mann, who had previously been charged with second-degree murder, admitted killing Henry Hernandez after he took Mann’s father’s pickup truck and damaged it.

Mann later asked Hernandez to meet him at a “sandpit” less than a mile from his house, where he waited for him with duct tape and a baseball bat, he admitted during Friday’s hearing.

“The violent end of this young victim’s life and the way his body was disposed of shows the coldhearted and brutal nature of the defendant,” Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said in a statement. “What makes this murder even more sad is that the victim Henry was only 16 years old and had his whole life before him.”

Mann’s defense attorney, Matthew Rosenblum of Commack, described his client as a “special kid who made a horrible 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 and not as 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 at the time said he hadn’t been seen since June.

Suffolk police then announced they found skeletal remains and clothing in a backyard on Jay Road in Centereach the following March, which they later confirmed through DNA testing belonged to Hernandez.

Mann, who lived a few doors down from where Hernandez’s remains were discovered, was charged in his murder in June.

During questioning from Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Frank Schroeder at Friday’s hearing, Mann confirmed he met Hernandez while they were in a psychiatric ward at Brunswick Hospital Center in Amityville.

They were both released from there in March 2019 and continued to spend time together at Mann’s house and his high school, Mann said. Later that same 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 at the “sandpit,” where Mann tied duct tape around Hernandez’s ankles, wrist and face, he said.

“Did you wind up repeatedly striking him with a baseball bat to the head and the body?” Schroeder asked.

“I did,” Mann responded, saying it was his intent to kill his friend.

Hernandez’s body was dumped into a previously 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 help from his sister to move the remains, but Schroeder told Senft she is not facing any 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, running concurrently to his 20-year manslaughter sentence. A third charge of concealment of a human corpse was dismissed as part of the agreement.

Mann's father and a grandmother attended Friday's hearing, but they declined to speak with 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, who was assisted by attorney Rudolph Migliore of Commack, said he’s hopeful Mann will have a second chance at life. He said his client has been owning up to the crime since his arrest, and Friday’s hearing was a “cleansing” that allowed him to admit his guilt.

“I have no doubt that he'll be an upstanding member of society when he gets out,” Rosenblum said.

Mann is scheduled for sentencing April 19.

A Centereach man admitted beating a friend to death with a baseball bat when they were both 16 years old and later burying and then digging up his victim’s remains to move them 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 Supreme Court Justice Anthony Senft in Riverhead Friday.

Mann, who had previously been charged with second-degree murder, admitted killing Henry Hernandez after he took Mann’s father’s pickup truck and damaged it.

Mann later asked Hernandez to meet him at a “sandpit” less than a mile from his house, where he waited for him 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 Friday in the beating death of a friend when the two were 16 years old.
  • Mann had been facing 25 years to life in prison on a second-degree murder charge, but his plea agreement limits his maximum time in jail to 20 years.
  • At his plea hearing, Mann admitted killing Henry Hernandez with a baseball bat, burying his body and then moving the remains to a neighbor’s property nine months later.

“The violent end of this young victim’s life and the way his body was disposed of shows the coldhearted and brutal nature of the defendant,” Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said in a statement. “What makes this murder even more sad is that the victim Henry was only 16 years old and had his whole life before him.”

Mann’s defense attorney, Matthew Rosenblum of Commack, described his client as a “special kid who made a horrible 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 and not as 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 at the time said he hadn’t been seen since June.

Suffolk police then announced they found skeletal remains and clothing in a backyard on Jay Road in Centereach the following March, which they later confirmed through DNA testing belonged to Hernandez.

Mann, who lived a few doors down from where Hernandez’s remains were discovered, was charged in his murder in June.

During questioning from Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Frank Schroeder at Friday’s hearing, Mann confirmed he met Hernandez while they were in a psychiatric ward at Brunswick Hospital Center in Amityville.

They were both released from there in March 2019 and continued to spend time together at Mann’s house and his high school, Mann said. Later that same 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 at the “sandpit,” where Mann tied duct tape around Hernandez’s ankles, wrist and face, he said.

“Did you wind up repeatedly striking him with a baseball bat to the head and the body?” Schroeder asked.

“I did,” Mann responded, saying it was his intent to kill his friend.

Hernandez’s body was dumped into a previously 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 help from his sister to move the remains, but Schroeder told Senft she is not facing any 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, running concurrently to his 20-year manslaughter sentence. A third charge of concealment of a human corpse was dismissed as part of the agreement.

Mann's father and a grandmother attended Friday's hearing, but they declined to speak with 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, who was assisted by attorney Rudolph Migliore of Commack, said he’s hopeful Mann will have a second chance at life. He said his client has been owning up to the crime since his arrest, and Friday’s hearing was a “cleansing” that allowed him to admit his guilt.

“I have no doubt that he'll be an upstanding member of society when he gets out,” Rosenblum said.

Mann is scheduled for sentencing April 19.

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