Plea Deal Brings End to Interstate Plot That Led to Murder of Haverhill Teen Over Drugs in 2017

Joseph Maxwell “Max” Benner appeared in Haverhill District Court on Jan. 22, 2019 where he was arraigned on a charge of murdering Bradford teen Bryce T. Finn in 2017. (WHAV News photograph.)

A Haverhill man and the two remaining Delaware men accused in connection with the murder of a Bradford teen in 2017 will serve 10 to 12 years in prison after murder charges were reduced in a plea deal Friday.

Twenty-four-year-old Joseph “Max” Benner of Haverhill and 25-year-old Thomas Warner and 23-year-old Nicholas Mandato, both of Delaware, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and armed assault with intent to murder in Salem Superior Court Friday afternoon. They and 22-year-old Kenneth Pitts were all originally charged with murdering 18-year-old Bryce T. Finn June 6, 2017, at Finn’s Rainbow Drive home.

Judge Thomas Dreschler imposed the agreed upon sentence of 10 to 12 years in state prison followed by five years of probation. They were also ordered not have any contact with the Finn’s family or witnesses.

Pitts pleaded guilty earlier this month to voluntary manslaughter, armed assault with intent to rob and carrying a firearm. Dreschler sentenced him to 23 to 25 years in state prison followed by five years of probation.

In an investigative report in 2019, WHAV pieced together the unexpected Delaware connection, which had been shielded by a court gag order. Benner knew the Delaware men from when he lived in the state with his mother, Erika J. Maczuba Benner of Methuen. She then served as the deputy treasurer for Delaware state Treasurer Chipman “Chip” L. Flowers Jr. before resigning amid scandal in 2013.

Benner knew Finn through his younger brother and, according to later police reports, sold him the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. “Benner didn’t think of Bryce as a friend. Their relationship was generally based on business,” police wrote.

The Delaware men told Benner of their interest in obtaining marijuana and Benner suggested Finn as a target. The plan was to tie up Finn with duct tape and rob him of marijuana, but the intended victim confronted the men with his own gun, according to an interview conducted in early January 2019 by Haverhill Police Detective Richard Welch and State Police Trooper Robert DeMeo.

Witnesses said Pitts shot Finn in the chest after Finn displayed his own weapon.  The men fled to a waiting vehicle occupied by Benner.  After dropping Benner off at his home, they drove back to Delaware.

The plot went undiscovered for a little more than a year until a man called Massachusetts State Police to say “an acquaintance” named Nick had revealed his role in Finn’s murder. Mandato was subsequently arrested, and gave up the names of the other Delaware men to his cellmate. Police were directed north when Mandato said a man named “Kyle” arranged the plot. A police check of the debit card used to buy the duct tape in Haverhill led them to Benner.

Haverhill police were already watching the Benners in 2018 for a different reason. Erika Benner was arrested at her parents’ West Meadow Road, Haverhill, home in February 2018 after Police conducted a month of surveillance on the property following complaints of “drug activity.”

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