The Journal Gazette
Thursday, May 19, 2022 1:00 am

No verdict reached in 4 counts of murder

Deliberations set to resume; security tight

JAMES D. WOLF JR. | The Journal Gazette

After an afternoon of deliberation Wednesday, a jury hadn't reached a verdict on whether Cohen Hancz-Barron, 22, was guilty of four counts of murder.

The jury was sequestered, and deliberations will resume today. Security around the courtroom has remained heightened since proceedings began.

Hancz-Barron is accused of killing his girlfriend and her three children with a knife on June 3. The girlfriend was 26-year-old Sarah Zent, and her children were Carter Mathew Zent, 5; Ashton Duwayne Zent, 3; and Aubree Christine Zent, 2.

Before jurors went into deliberation, they heard closing arguments.

The prosecution reviewed evidence it had shown since May 11. Much of the testimony showed Hancz-Barron's movements around the home in the 2900 block of Gay Street. The timeline started the night of June 2 and extended to after police retrieved him in Lafayette the next afternoon.

Surveillance video from the Whitney Young Early Childhood school showed Hancz-Barron going into the house through the main door before 1 a.m. About 6 a.m., Hancz-Barron texted a neighbor, Richard Bevelle, about using his truck because his sister was in an accident, and he wanted to get to the hospital. The neighbor refused, but Hancz-Barron used keys Bevelle gave Sarah Zent and stole the truck.

When police arrested Hancz-Barron in Lafayette, the truck was there, and he was carrying a knife that had DNA from the victims on it.

Allen County Chief Public Defender William Lebrato told the jurors that of the more than 258 pieces of evidence the prosecution has, none directly pointed to Hancz-Barron's guilt. It was all circumstantial, he said.

To reach a guilty decision, “The state wants to prey on your emotions,” he said. They showed photos of the family before the murder. “The right thing to do is look at the evidence and consider testimony.”

Lebrato said no cameras could see the house's side door and who went in and out, and he questioned how many times Bevelle was in the house before the bodies were discovered. He also said there was no evidence there was strife in the relationship between Zent and Hancz-Barron.

He portrayed Hancz-Barron's incoherent and confused state – when he went to his mother's house about 6 a.m. and when he called his stepmother – as fear.

There'd been an incident in Colorado where he was chased, and this incident may have been similar, Lebrato said. “Is it possible when Cohen ran out of the house, he grabbed the knife to protect himself,” he said.

There was no blood on his clothes and no sign that he washed them, and the video showed they were the same clothes all night, Lebrato said.

“We have a lot of unanswered questions here, and what do unanswered question lead to,” Lebrato said. “Reasonable doubt.”

In rebuttal, Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Tesa Helge told jurors to consider evidence. “Tie them all together,” she said. “Use the law; use your common sense.”

Helge asked why Hancz-Barron would grab a knife with the Zents' DNA when he ran out of the house. 

Based on the evidence, there's no possible other killer. “The defendant is the only explanation,” Helge said.

If the jury finds Hancz-Barron guilty, jurors will then return to deliberations for a sentence enhancement of life without parole. The jury would be asked to decide if the prosecution proved that Hancz-Barron committed crimes in a way that would deserve the life sentence.

Prosecutors can request the life without parole enhancement because of aggravating circumstances in a crime, such as when a victim is younger than 12 years old.

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