Murder Arraignment Brings Surprise of Victim Pulling Out His Own Gun During Heist

Joseph Maxwell “Max” Benner, handcuffed, with Assistant District Attorney Christina Ronan, defense lawyer Ronald J. Ranta and Haverhill District Court Officer Douglas Dow. (WHAV News photograph.)

Yesterday’s arraignment of a Haverhill man on a murder charge reveals he is a boyhood friend of the Delaware man who allegedly pulled the trigger, killing Bradford teen Bryce T. Finn in 2017.

Finn’s death began as Joseph Maxwell “Max” Benner’s plot to rob the 18-year-old of his marijuana stash and, in Benner’s own words, the result was “things going badly,” according to a joint State and Haverhill Police prison interview. Twenty-one-year-old Benner knew the Rainbow Drive youth through his younger brother and sold him the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, the report revealed.

“Benner didn’t think of Bryce as a friend. Their relationship was generally based on business,” police wrote.

Finn Disrupts Robbery with His Own Gun

Bryce Finn. (Courtesy photograph.)

The plan was to tie up Finn with duct tape and rob him of marijuana on June 6, 2017, but the intended victim confronted the men with his own gun, according to an interview conducted only last Thursday by Haverhill Police Detective Richard Welch and State Police Trooper Robert DeMeo.

Although these admissions, among others, became public at Tuesday arraignment, the unlikely Delaware connection was clear almost immediately after Benner’s arrest Friday when WHAV first reported the 21-year-old’s mother, Erika, once served as Delaware’s deputy state treasurer (see related story). The revelation explained how three Delaware men came to focus on a teen more than 400 miles away.

Haverhill District Court First Justice Stephen S. Abany ordered him to remain at the Middleton House of Correction where he is still serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence on unrelated drug charges (see related story).

Benner admitted to police he was a childhood friend of co-defendant Kenneth Pitts. Pitts wanted marijuana and Benner suggested Finn as a target. Pitts drove from Delaware with Nicholas Mandato and Thomas Warner. After buying duct tape and other supplies, Benner drove them to Finn’s house in Mandato’s car. According to police, “Benner said that he knew that Pitts had a gun with him.”

Benner said he remained in the car, while the three Delaware men approached the back door at Finn’s Rainbow Drive home. He told police he could not see the door from the car, but “heard a single gunshot.” The other men raced back to the car, telling Benner that “Finn pulled a gun and confronted them.”

Benner drove the men back to his grandparents’ house and the Delaware men left.

During the forthcoming investigation, police learned Finn had been dealing marijuana. In his bedroom, police found almost $9,000 cash and marijuana.

Silence is Broken A Year Later; Purchase Reveals Benner Role

Silence that lasted a little more than a year was broken when a man called Massachusetts State Police to say “an acquaintance” named Nick had revealed his role in Finn’s murder. That led to arrest of Mandato. While awaiting transfer to Massachusetts, Mandato revealed the names of the other Delaware men to his cellmate. He also said Pitts was the shooter and a fourth man, a Massachusetts man then known only as “Kyle,” arranged the plot. Pitts and Warner would be arrested next. A police check of the debit card used to buy the duct tape in Haverhill led them to Benner.

Benner had previously admitted to police he had sold Xanax to Finn, but did not admit to his role in the killing.

Mandato, Warner and Pitts were indicted by an Essex County grand jury for Finn’s murder last October. Essex County Assistant District Attorney Christina Ronan told Judge Abany she expects Benner will also be indicted before March 1.