FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — An Allen County jury is weighing the fate of a man charged in the 2021 quadruple homicide on Gay Street that took the lives of a young mother and her three children.
Closing arguments wrapped up midday Wednesday in the trial of 22-year-old Cohen Hancz-Barron, charged with four counts of murder and the possibility of life without parole in the stabbing deaths of Sarah Zent, 26, her sons, Carter, 5, and Ashton, 3, and her 2-year-old daughter, Aubree.
In his closing argument, lead prosecutor Tom Chaille said Hancz-Barron’s actions were deliberate and the result of a domestic dispute. There were a total of 55 stab wounds delivered to the four “defenseless” victims, he told the jury. Evidence suggested Carter, 5, and Sarah Zent both fought back.
“What he did to those defenseless individuals is so outside our frame of reference, it’s almost unbelievable,” said Chaille.
When he was arrested, Hancz-Barron had the knife on him that contained his DNA and that of three other victims. He also had gardening gloves that had the DNA of all victims on them.
If convicted in the deaths, then the jury will have the task of continuing its deliberation on a life without parole enhancement ,or added sentence, sought by the prosecution.
On June 2, 2021, the four victims were found in a back bedroom at 2904 Gay St., Sarah, kneeling and face down in a prayer position at the edge of the bed. Dr. Scott Wagner, forensic pathologist, said her killer also strangled her, both manually and with an electric cord, and tried to suffocate her by pressing her face against something hard.
Her three children were found lying face down, stabbed in the neck and right flank, their bodies amidst a jumble of diapers, wipes, Babies R Us loyalty cards and wads of toilet paper, among other items. Wagner put their time of death between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Both Sarah and Carter had defense wounds in the arm and hand.
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Discovered by Sarah Zent’s sister, Joselyn Zent and her boyfriend, Jeremy Nielsen, the couple immediately accused Hancz-Barron when the police arrived around 10:43 a.m. Joselyn and Nielsen had spent an hour with Joselyn’s mother, Melanie Fields and neighbor Richard Bevelle looking for the family. It was Bevelle who alerted Fields and Zent that his truck had been taken by Hancz-Barron just before 6 a.m. and he’d been trying to get his black “Harley Davidson” F-150 pick up back ever since.
The killer had covered their bodies with a pink or peach bed covering and the victims had been undetectable until Nielsen placed his hand close to a stain and felt something “rock hard.” After lifting that part of the coverlet, Joselyn “flung back” the bedspread to their horror. The 9-11 calls to dispatch brought the immediacy of their anguish to the courtroom.
“My girlfriend’s family has been murdered,” Nielsen cried as he attempted to describe the scene to the dispatcher.
Tuesday, the defense led by Anthony Churchward and William Lebrato, Allen County chief public defender, made it clear they thought the scene could have been disturbed before the police arrived and objected when Chief Counsel Tom Chaille and deputy prosecutor Tesa Helge brought back a DNA expert from the Indiana State Police laboratory. Ashley Luther was asked to clarify her findings on a pair of gardening gloves found next to Aubree on the bed.
Luther said it had been one of the most difficult DNA cases she could remember and her testimony was of a scientific nature and language rarely used. The defense argued that the testimony had already been heard and there was nothing new to be presented.
“That should have been the end of it,” Churchward said.
However, Luther was allowed to continue and, in plainer language, tied one of the swabs taken from a glove to Hancz-Barron and the two boys with a strong likelihood that DNA from Sarah and Aubree was included.
In testimony last week, blood on a knife Hancz-Barron had when he was arrested in Lafayette several hours after the stabbing deaths, also linked him to three of the victims.
Lead homicide detective Brian Martin testified on the zip gun, or rather the partially-constructed zip gun, found in the kitchen along with multiple live rounds of ammunition and shell casings. But the zip gun doesn’t seem to have figured in the crime scene or what occurred in the early morning that day. While it was noted along with hundreds of crime scene items, it doesn’t seem to be important in either case.
Although the prosecution had surveillance video from a nearby school showing Hancz-Barron getting into Bevelle’s truck and damning testimony from Hancz-Barron’s mother and step-mother, the defense told Gull they would defend their client by arguing the evidence is circumstantial.
“There were no eyewitnesses,” Churchward said in his opening arguments last week and warned that the state had to prove its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” He also told the jurors they would need to make sure they “held the right person accountable.” The defense has not called any witnesses nor presented evidence of anyone else being involved.