A Barre man who pleaded guilty to manslaughter earlier this week in the 2011 killing of his great uncle was sentenced to 25 to 30 years in prison in Worcester Superior Court on Friday, according to Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early.
Jonathan Hart, 28, and his friend Jason Lopez, 27, of Ware, were charged with stabbing former Hardwick Selectman Joseph Cernauskas, 84, with a hunting knife while he slept in his Hardwick home in the early morning of Sept. 6. 2011 before setting the house on fire, stealing two cars out of the driveway, and fleeing to Florida.
The investigation began when Hardwick firefighters did not find Cernauskas at home during the fire at 151 Off Maple St. Hart and Lopez loaded Cernauskas’ body into a minivan from the before setting the house on fire, according to court documents.
The men ditched the minivan a few blocks away from Lopez’s home in Ware. His body was found in a field in Barre two weeks later. Hart and Lopez then drove to Florida, with the murder weapon in the trunk of a 2006 Dodge Stratus that belonged to Hart’s grandmother/Cernauskas’ sister, Helen Hart of North Brookfield.
According to the Worcester Telegram, Fire Chief Raymond Walker found bloody bedclothes, and slashed and blood-stained bed sheets inside a functioning outhouse on the property. Police tracked Hart to Florida after pinging his cellphone in the Tarpon Springs.
Hart was returned to Massachusetts, and pleaded guilty to manslaughter, home invasion, armed burglary, arson of a dwelling house, larceny from a building and two counts of larceny of a motor vehicle on the day of jury selection. According to court records, the plea agreement reduced murder charges to voluntary manslaughter charges.
Hart told detectives that Cernauskas had molested him for several years when he was a young boy, and that he had planned the murder for quite some time.
Judge Daniel Wrenn sentenced Mr. Hart to 25 to 30 years in prison and 10 years of probation after he serves his sentence. Lopez is still being held without bail on murder, home invasion, armed burglary, arson of a dwelling house, larceny from a building and larceny of a motor vehicle charges.