BY JONATHAN YOUNG – SUN NEWSPAPERS
Henry Hickman, 55, has pleaded guilty to beating his wife to death with a baseball bat in their Brooklyn Park home in February 2011.
His wife, Cynthia, was 34 and their two children were at home. After killing his wife, investigators say Hickman lit the house on fire with the children still inside.
Hickman pleaded guilty May 21 to one count of second-degree intentional murder with two aggravating factors — the fact that his children were home and the cruelty of the murder. Aggravating factors provide grounds for the judge to pronounce a sentence heavier than the standard recommended sentence for the crime.
With Hickman’s guilty plea, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office dropped other charges against him, which included charges of first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree murder as part of a domestic assault.
Hickman faces up to 40 years in prison on the second-degree murder charge. His sentencing was scheduled for May 29.
According to the criminal complaint, Brooklyn Park Police responded to a call at about 5:15 a.m. on Feb. 26, 2011, for a health and welfare check on the 6200 block of 70th Avenue North.
When police arrived on the scene, they found the front door open and encountered heavy smoke coming from the upper level of the house. Officers announced their arrival, and two young children emerged from the basement. The children were unharmed.
Fire crews arrived and extinguished the fire. In an upstairs bedroom, they found the body of a woman under a burning mattress. She had blood on her head. Outside the house, police found an aluminum bat with blood on it.
The older child told officers he had been awakened by his mother screaming. He came out of his room and saw his father, the defendant, coming from his mother’s room with a bat. The defendant ordered the child back into his room and he obeyed.
Upon hearing more screams and a series of thumps the child came out of his room again. He saw the defendant light something on fire using the kitchen stove and throw the item into the mother’s room. The defendant ordered both children to go into the basement and stay there.
The children obeyed and were too afraid to run out of the house or call for help.
A friend of the deceased woman told officers the victim had been married to the defendant eight years, but had been with him for 13. The witness said the defendant had been physically and emotionally abusive since the beginning of the relationship. She said the victim was considering a divorce.
At the victim’s request, a judge had issued a restraining order Feb. 15, 2011, forbidding the defendant from going within three blocks of the victim’s home or place of employment.
Another witness, who had recently started dating the victim, said he received a phone call at approximately 4:30 a.m. Feb. 26. He said a male voice identified himself as “Hank.” The voice said, “She’s done and you’re next. I’ll find you.” After receiving the call the witness called 911.
The autopsy concluded the cause of death was blunt force trauma, and the State Fire Marshal determined the fire was set intentionally to cover up the murder.