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Three sentenced in assault of EHT teen later found dead near Pleasantville strip club

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The two women embraced, crying as they each struggled to understand the events that brought them to this courtroom in Mays Landing.

Zara Mayren is here after losing her 19-year-old son who died not far from where three men assaulted him outside a Pleasantville strip club.

The woman hugging her is the grandmother of two of those men.

Brothers Garnell and John Hands, along with co-defendant Jamaul Timberlake, were sentenced on aggravated assault charges Friday, for beating Irving Mayren Guzman outside Centerfolds Cabaret on Jan. 23, 2022.

Timberlake and John Hands were each sentenced to four years in prison. Garnell Hands, said to be the instigator, was sentenced to five. There is no term of parole ineligibility.

After the attack, which was captured on surveillance video, the three men went back inside.

"I didn't know it was going to happen like this and I apologize that it happened like this," Garnell Hands said as he addressed the court. "As I went back to the bar, I thought (security) took care of the situation."

But it seems security just watched as the Egg Harbor Township teen got up and walked into the 20-degree night without his cell phone.

His friends waiting on the other side of the parking lot wouldn't find him that night.

After a massive search, his body was found in the marsh nearly two days later. His death was ruled an accident caused by hypothermia and drowning with acute alcohol intoxication.

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"I was destroyed when they told me they found you not alive," Zara Mayren said in her statement, which was more a letter to her lost son. "I screamed. I cried, asking, "Why you? Why my son?"

The community called for the club that knowingly allowed a minor to drink inside closed and for the men to be charged in his death.

Centerfolds is now shuttered. But the charges remained third-degree assault.

Eduardo Alvarez, the victim's older brother, said the family is left with questions.

"We struggle with understanding the law, " he said. "The punishment should fit the crime."

He addressed the court for each sentencing, commenting on the defendant. He said Garnell Hands is a monster.

"I want to apologize to the victim's family and my family as well," Garnell Hands said. "But to be called a monster, that's not fair."

Lonette Hands, the brothers' aunt, apologized to the family, while explaining her own family's grief.

"Don't think we're cold-hearted," she said. "You would fight for your family.

"I wish your son was here. I really do," she told the victim's mother, adding that Garnell is not a monster.

"My son is not a bad boy too," Meyran responded. "He was a nice guy, hardworking because I teach him like that."

Timberlake chose not to speak during his sentencing.

The last to be sentenced was John Hands, who spent the past two weeks out of jail.

He's known as a gently giant, attorney Matt Portella has repeatedly told the judge.

"His actions that night were anything but that," Assistant Prosecutor Harlee Stein said.

Sitting down at the prosecution table for a third time, the victim's brother softened, apologizing if his words had hurt the defendant's loved ones.

"I'm still cognizant that they have families," he said. "And those families are in pain too."

The Hands' grandmother gave a tearful statement before John Hands stood to apologize.

Pearl Hands talked mostly to the victim's family.

"I prayed for him (Irving) every day since this happened," she told the teen's family. "My family hurts for your family. I love you. God bless each and every one of you."

After court adjourned, the grandmother approached Mayren Guzman's mother and hugged her. The two women talked, as if each trying to work out the unsolvable equation of the events that added up to this.

One outside the courtroom, Pearl Hands sat and sobbed uncontrollably.

In front of the courthouse, protesters stood with signs still demanding "justice for Irving."

author

Lynda Cohen

BreakingAC founder who previously worked in newspapers for more than two decades. She is an NJPA award-winner and was a Stories of Atlantic City fellow.

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