***WARNING: This story contains graphic content not suitable for all readers***
INDIANAPOLIS (WANE) – The Supreme Court of Indiana has agreed to hear oral arguments next year in a 2021 murder case a local judge called “horrific.”
Through the appeal process, Cohen Hancz-Barron, convicted of stabbing and killing 26-year-old Sarah Zent and her three young children on June 2, 2021 at their Gay Street home, has been granted an appeal hearing on Jan. 18.
And Melanie Fields plans to be there.
The proceedings in Hancz-Barron’s appeal will be live-streamed, but that will not deter the mother of Sarah Zent from facing in person the man convicted of killing her daughter again, she told WANE 15 on Tuesday afternoon.
“I feel like I need to still be there,” Fields said. “I need to still fight for them.”
Fields attended every day of Hancz-Barron’s trial and then his sentencing last year, where the judge overseeing the proceedings said the killings were so horrific that she worried not only for the families that were impacted, but how it affected prosecutors, attorneys and court staff.
Autopsy photos showed Zent in a praying pose on the edge of a bed where she’d been ligated and stabbed. Her children, Carter, 5; Ashton, 3; and Aubree, 2, were arranged on the bed around her, face down.
Hancz-Barron refused to appear at his sentencing. Zent’s family called him a coward during the hearing while Allen County Superior Court Judge Fran Gull sentenced him to serve life without parole for each of the four lives he took, serving them consecutively which means one after the other.
A virtual impossibility.
That’s where the appeal comes into play.
Hancz-Barron’s appellate attorney, Gregory Fumarolo, an Allen County public defender, and the county’s chief public defender, William Lebrato, are due to appear in front of the Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta Rush to argue on his behalf, according to court documents.
Hancz-Barron argued in a Nov. 6 filing that his four convictions should be reversed and that he be discharged. The four life sentences are “cruel and unusual punishment,” his defense argues, calling it a violation of the U.S. and Indiana constitutions.
If that isn’t possible, the convicted 24-year-old wants a new trial, or that his sentence be revised downward, or be granted a new sentencing hearing.
In the appeal, Fumarolo wrote that the imposition of four consecutive life sentences without parole “might be seen as proportional to the number of people who lost their lives. However, the symbolic retribution of such a sentence seems disproportional given the number of lives Hancz-Barron has to live.”
At his sentencing, mitigating circumstances included his young age – 21 at the time – stunted brain development, a difficult youth and mental health history. During the trial, testimony revealed that he was diagnosed at an early age with mental illness and was treated for it, only medications abruptly stopped.
Dr. Stephen Ross, a forensic pathologist, testified after his interviews with the accused he diagnosed Hancz-Barron with bipolar disorder and antisocial personality disorder. Ross said at age 21, Hancz-Barron’s brain was still developing, but his history of substance abuse negatively impacted that development.
With the heinousness of the crime, Gull, the presiding judge, said the aggravating factors outweighed mitigating factors and handed down the four life sentences.
That was a day Melanie Fields will never forget – though it provided a mix of emotions.
She saw the killer of her daughter and grandchildren put away for the rest of his life. Still, it did not bring her loved ones back.
“It was great that day, but when it all settled in, the loss is still there,” Fields said. “I still stand by what I said. At least we all know that he will never do this to another family and that gives me some comfort, but you still don’t get anything out of it.”
“Your losses are still there,” she added.
Fields says she can’t pick up the phone and talk to her daughter every day or see her babies, meaning her grandchildren.
“Every day I see the whole scene,” said Fields, who discovered the bodies that morning with her daughter, Joselyn Zent. “I relive the whole scene every day.”
Then there are nightmares every night.
At least she knows Hancz-Barron is currently confined in the Pendleton Correctional Facility.
The records currently show there is no outdate – no parole, no possibility of release on the horizon.
And Fields hopes it stays that way.