The Journal Gazette
Friday, May 20, 2022 1:00 am

Man guilty on 4 murder counts

Jury recommends life, no parole for killing mom, 3 kids

JIM CHAPMAN | The Journal Gazette

Melanie Fields was holding a locket, a symbol of hope, Thursday after a jury found a man guilty of killing her daughter and three grandchildren.

The jury also recommended that Cohen Hancz-Barron serve the rest of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole.

Jurors deliberated about four hours over two days before convicting Hancz-Barron, 22, of four counts of murder. He was accused of killing his girlfriend and her three children with a knife in a home at Gay and McKee streets on June 3.

The girlfriend, Fields' daughter, was Sarah Zent, 26. Her children were Carter Mathew Zent, 5; Ashton Duwayne Zent, 3; and Aubree Christine Zent, 2.

As a sentencing enhancement, prosecutors asked the jury to recommend that Hancz-Barron receive a life sentence without parole. A sentencing enhancement can be requested for various aggravating factors, including when victims are younger than 12 years old.

Hancz-Barron showed no emotion and stared at Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull when she read the guilty verdicts Thursday morning. He chose not to attend the trial's penalty phase when prosecutors explained why they believed he should get a life sentence. His attorneys said he was upset with the verdict.

During an Aug. 5 hearing, Gull will impose the sentence, revealing whether she accepts the jury's recommendation. The verdict wrapped up a seven-day trial that began last week. Jurors were sequestered overnight Wednesday after a few hours of deliberations.

The locket, which belonged to Sarah Zent, was shaped like a sunflower and had a message inside: “You are my sunshine.”

Fields said the necklace gave her hope that her daughter and three grandchildren would receive justice.

“I could breathe,” she said after the jury delivered its verdict. “I could finally let that breath go that I had been holding for a year.”

The victims' family and friends applauded Allen County Deputy Prosecutors Tom Chaille said Tesa Helge in the courthouse after the trial. Despite the guilty verdict and sentencing recommendation, Chaille said there was little the prosecution could do to ease the pain many people have endured the past year.

“We're happy on their behalf the jury found him responsible,” he said.

Fort Wayne police detective Brian Martin called the killing scene “the worst, most troubling” he has worked. 

Surveillance video from a nearby school showed Hancz-Barron going into the house through the main door before 1 a.m. and leaving in a pickup between 5:54 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. It also showed no one else entering or exiting the house until a neighbor and another person discovered the bodies after calling police about 10:45 a.m., court records said.

Hancz-Barron texted a neighbor about 6 a.m., asking to use his truck because Hancz-Barron's sister was in an accident and he wanted to get her to a hospital. The neighbor refused, but Hancz-Barron used keys the neighbor gave Sarah Zent and stole the truck.

When police arrested Hancz-Barron in Lafayette that same day, he had a knife that had the victims' DNA on it, court records said.

“It shows the skills of our prosecutors and our police department,” Martin said of the investigation.

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