Cynthia Hickman had gotten a protection order against her husband two weeks before the brutal attack.
A man who prosecutors say beat his estranged wife to death with a baseball bat in their Brooklyn Park home, then set fire to her body and left while their young sons cowered in the basement, pleaded guilty Monday to second-degree intentional murder.
While her relatives looked on, Henry Hickman, 55, admitted to killing 34-year-old Cynthia Hickman on Feb. 26, 2011. He faces up to 40 years in prison when he's sentenced May 29.
Hickman entered his plea on the day that jury selection was to begin for his trial on eight counts, including first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree murder while committing domestic abuse with a past pattern of abuse. Both are punishable by a life sentence. With his plea, all remaining counts against Hickman were dismissed. He consented to two aggravating factors that permit Judge Mark Wernick to sentence him beyond recommended guidelines -- the fact that his two sons were in the home at the time and the violent manner of his wife's death.
Less than two weeks before Cynthia Hickman was killed, a judge had granted her an order for protection, which forbade her husband of 13 years from coming near. A week later, when he ran out of money, she let him return and live in the basement.
According to the charges, filed last year, a man Cynthia Hickman was seeing reported to police that he received a call from her cellphone early that morning. When he answered it, he heard a voice that was allegedly Hickman, saying "She's done and you're next, I'll find you."
Police rushed to the house at 6208 70th Av. N., where the boys came up from the basement and said they had last seen their mother upstairs. Police found her charred body beneath a flaming mattress.
The boys told investigators they woke up to their mother screaming and saw their father come out of her bedroom with a bat, according to charges. Henry Hickman allegedly told the boys everything was OK and returned to the room. The children said they heard more thumps and screams, then saw their father light something and throw it into the bedroom before he rushed them downstairs.
When police arrived, one boy told police he thought his father still was in the house; the other said he was too scared to run out or call for help.
Hickman turned himself in that morning at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Minneapolis.
Hickman's attorney, Albert Goins, declined to comment.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921