FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – A jury has reached a verdict in the trial of a man accused of killing his girlfriend and her three children in June of last year.
Cohen Hancz-Barron, 22, was found guilty on four counts of murder for the deaths of 26-year-old Sarah Zent and her children, Carter Mathew Zent, 5; Ashton Duwayne Zent, 3; and Aubree Christine Zent, 2.
No eyewitness was there to tell the story of the gory and macabre discovery at 2904 Gay St. on June 2, but the jury decided, with all the evidence presented, that Cohen Hancz-Barron deliberately committed the ghastly crime.
Thursday afternoon, the jury decided on a penalty enhancement of life without parole, taking the state’s side that the aggravating circumstances outweighed any mitigating circumstances, including mental illness and family trauma.
The jury started deliberations shortly after the verdict at 10 a.m. on the sentence enhancement of life without parole. Hancz-Barron chose not to return to the courtroom and stayed behind in the sheriff’s office, obviously not pleased with the verdict, his attorney, public defender Anthony Churchward, said.
He had the option to return for the afternoon session, but Churchward and his other attorney, William Lebrato, didn’t seem to think he would.
Once the life without parole sentence was announced around 3 p.m., the families of the four slain waited for Chief Counsel Tom Chaille and deputy prosecutor Tesa Helge and lead homicide detective Brian Martin on the second floor of the Allen County Courthouse, bursting into applause once they appeared.
Chaille said it was the first case with life without parole and said resources from his office and the Fort Wayne Police Department were sizable.
“Nothing we do ever brings anyone back. Nothing in the courtroom ever lessens the pain. We’re happy on their behalf to hold him responsible for what he did,” Chaille said.
Martin said outside the Allen County Courthouse that it was one of the most disturbing homicides he’d ever worked in his 11 years in the homicide unit.
Melanie Fields, Sarah Zent’s mother, said the family had gotten justice.
Allen County prosecutors or the state have asked that Hancz-Barron be given life without parole because of two aggravating factors: the number of people killed and that the children were all under 12. Hancz Barron has the right to appeal the decision as in any other case.
During the first life without parole court session Thursday, jurors became aware that Hancz-Barron was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder close to the age of 12 and was hospitalized locally. Dr. Stephen Ross, said Hancz Barron was in and out of counseling with Park Center, Parkview Behavioral Health and another counseling service until about 2016. Hancz-Barron also suffered from “major depression,” according to three psychological evaluations conducted in December.
“I just can’t control myself when I get angry sometimes,” he told Ross during the interview. He also expressed little remorse “for what happened that night.” But he did not suffer from hallucinations, delusions or psychoses.
Ross said he diagnosed the defendant with anti-social personality disorder and explained that Hancz Barron would quickly believe that he was being mistreated by people, hold grudges, and was impulsive in his actions.
The defendant starting abusing alcohol and marijuana around 12 in an attempt to self medicate and the night he committed the murders, as convicted, he had consumed a lot of alcohol, Ross said.
His mental conditions are likely of a genetic disorder that might have been aggravated by his parents’ divorce when he was 10 and his father’s death when he was 13.
After the marriage ended, there was instability and he lived with an uncle and also his father, a school teacher and probation officer with juvenile corrections here, who had moved a couple of hours away, until he returned to Fort Wayne with his new wife, Sarah Barron, who also testified during the trial. Later, he lived with a foster family and spent time in juvenile corrections, according to court testimony.
Ross said Hancz-Barron had a “disregard for the rules.”
Up until the divorce and his father’s death, he played sports, was a very good student and had friends in the neighborhood and at school, Denise Hancz-Barron, Cohen’s mother said.
Denise Hancz-Barron spoke of a relatively stable home life in the city’s northeast side with family dinners, family vacations and church every week until her son turned 10 and the Hancz-Barrons were divorced.
Hancz Barron graduated from Knox Community High School and got a technical degree from Lincoln Tech, according to testimony.
Ross said Hancz-Barron’s dependency on marijuana and alcohol most likely interfered with his brain development. The adolescent brain develops until age 24, but the development is not linear, he said.