The Journal Gazette
Saturday, May 14, 2022 1:00 am

Jury in quadruple homicide views knife

Detective testifies seeing defendant throw it down

JAMES D. WOLF JR. | The Journal Gazette

The trial of Cohen B. Hancz-Barron, who is charged with the June 3 murder of his girlfriend and her three children, continued Friday with expert testimony.

Three of the Fort Wayne Police Department's crime scene technicians testified in the morning about collecting evidence at the murder scene on Gay Street in Fort Wayne and at an apartment in Lafayette, where police took Hancz-Barron into custody.

Hancz-Barron, 22, is charged with four counts of murder in the stabbing deaths of 26-year-old Sarah Zent, and her children: Carter Mathew Zent, 5; Ashton Duwayne Zent, 3; and Aubree Christine Zent, 2.

During Friday morning's proceedings, jurors saw the knife that the prosecution said was used to kill the family. Detective Jason Palm, who was first on the stand, testified about going to Lafayette to check the apartment where police found Hancz-Barron.

Hancz-Barron had the knife in his hand and threw it down when officers entered with a search warrant, according to the probable cause affidavit in the case. Palm said he found the knife, stained red, on the floor. It was a folding knife with a blade between 2 inches and 3 inches long.

Another knife was found when Detective Kim Seiss processed the black Ford F-150 that Hancz-Barron is assumed to have driven to Lafayette from Fort Wayne. Hancz-Barron allegedly stole the truck from Zent's neighbor, and police had the vehicle towed back.

The knife in the truck was a Faberware kitchen knife with a large blade, and Seiss said she found it between the seat and the center console. She also found two partial rolls of black tape in the truck, and she took fingerprint samples and did DNA swabs inside the vehicle.

Detective Ricky Brummett, who was lead crime scene technician at the Zent home, talked about photographing, collecting and preserving evidence at the home, including DNA samples. He took samples from the blood in the upstairs bathroom and as well as in the bedroom where the homicides took place.

After leading the investigation at the house, Brummett also took DNA samples from Hancz-Barron and took photographs of him. Court records state that Hancz-Barron's wrists had lacerations and scratches. The prosecution declined to cross-examine the morning's witnesses.

The lead defense attorney, Tony Churchward, told the jury on Wednesday that the defense team agrees the four were murdered, but the prosecution has no facts showing that Hancz-Barron committed the crime. Everything is circumstantial and proves only that there was a murder, Churchward said.

The homicides might have started as a domestic fight, based on evidence and the mess in the house, Allen County Deputy Prosecutor Tom Chaille told jurors in a Wednesday opening statement.

Police saw there was food thrown against a wall, vegetable oil poured on Sarah Zent's back, a spatula and the oil bottle by her, crushed potato chips strewn around and “a lot of empty beer cans in the kitchen.”

Sarah Zent was attacked in multiple ways but died from cuts to the throat, Chaille said. She also had bruising, signs of strangulation and lacerations to her side, one reaching her liver.

The children also died from knife wounds to their necks. Autopsies discovered the boys had blood clots on the backs of their heads, showing they were hit with a blunt object or slammed against something.

When Zent's family members came to the house looking for her after not being able to contact her, they didn't immediately see her kneeling by the bed and the children face-down on it because the victims were covered with a blanket.

The trial is set to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday and is scheduled to last until Friday.

If convicted of the murder charges, Hancz also faces a sentence enhancement of life without parole if convicted. Prosecutors may request a sentence enhancement for aggravating circumstances, including when a victim is younger than 12 years old.

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