Court testimony: “She set him up,” witness tells jurors

Friday was the 4th day of testimony in the murder trial of Cohen Hancz-Barron

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE)– When Cohen Hancz-Barron fled Fort Wayne to Lafayette, he went to an apartment in Lafayette where he casually knew a woman named Hannah Collins.

He had a story that he’d been living with Sarah Zent and her three children for about a month and had just been kicked out. He said he was suicidal.

Furthermore, he said he and this woman had been at a bar the night before and he watched her text another man.

“He was worried that she’d set him up,” Collins told the jury Friday at the trial of Hancz-Barron, 22, charged with murder in the deaths of Sarah Zent, 26, and her three young children, Carter, 5, Ashton, 3 and Aubree, 2, early in the morning of June 2, 2021.

The trial will resume Tuesday and, if there is a conviction, there will be another trial the same week for the charge of life without parole.

Friday was the fourth day of the murder trial held in the courtroom of Allen Superior Court Judge Fran Gull and yet another day when the family was forced to endure more crime scene photos involving Sarah and her three little ones.

Important testimony from a DNA forensic biologist, Ashley Luther, with the Indianapolis State Police lab linked Cohen Hancz-Barron’s DNA  on a pair of gardening gloves found near Aubree Zent. The folding knife  Hancz Barron had at the Lafayette apartment had enough blood on it to also connect him and the victims to the crime, Luther testified.

It was a wrenching horror for the entire city when police arrived at the home at 2904 Gay St. after two hysterical phone calls before 10 a.m. from Nielsen and Joselyn begged for police to come. A vigil was arranged almost immediately and 10-Point Coalition arranged to pay for the funerals.

Friday, crime scene lead technician Ricky Brumett said eight out of the nine FWPD crime scene technicians reported to the scene around 11 a.m. and stayed until 6 p.m. the day the homicides were discovered.

“My hands were torn up,” Brumett told the court, from putting the gloves on and off. “I did it so much that day.”

The next day, CSI was present at the autopsy and went back to finish up on June 4, he said in a taped interview.

It was the testimony of crime scene technician Michelle Iden, who sat in for Brumett, that brought more tears from the 20 family members packed into a section of court seating.  The jury is still not seated in the jury box and takes up two-thirds of the courtroom seating, a practice that began during the pandemic.

In the photos again, there was Sarah, kneeling at a corner of the bed, her arms over her head in a prayer-like position. Across the bed was Carter, 5, wearing trousers and lying face down.

The two little ones were up against the head of the bed, Ashton, 3 against the wall, wrapped in a red coverlet with his feet uncovered. Next to him lay Aubree in only a diaper. Both of them were face down.

When Iden showed a photo of the bed after the bodies had been removed by the Allen County Coroner, there were large pools of red blood. She testified that a large pool of blood was found under Sarah, too.

Brian Martin, the lead homicide detective assigned to the case, took the stand for the first time to recount his interview with Hancz-Barron once he’d been transported back to Fort Wayne. He found scratches on the defendant’s neck and left wrist, probable evidence that Sarah fought back during the attack, court testimony said.

Sarah had defense wounds on her arm and hand as did five-year-old Carter, according to court testimony. During the search, Martin said he found Sarah Zent’s Visa credit card in Hancz-Barron’s wallet.

William Lebrato, part of the two-man defense team, asked if the card had been used, but Martin said he was unaware if it had.

Lebrato also wanted to know why a detective who helped apprehend Hancz-Barron in Lafayette hadn’t included Collins’ information in his report. She was the one who reported that Hancz-Barron said he felt “set up,” by Sarah.

Still, no motive has been produced for the stabbing deaths of each victim, although the little ones were bashed on the back of the head and Sarah was suffocated and strangled, both manually and with an electric cord. Their deaths were ruled a homicide by multiple stab wounds.

The state-led by Allen County Prosecutor Chief Counsel Tom Chaille and deputy prosecutor Tesa Helge doesn’t have to provide a motive. Their charge is to prove the crime was committed “beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defense, led by Anthony Churchward, has tried to sow some doubt in the reports, but in opening arguments, Churchward cautioned the jury “to hold the right person accountable.” Churchward described the evidence as circumstantial and said there were no eyewitnesses.

No evidence has been presented that anyone else was there at the home when the deaths occurred, most likely between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., according to the forensic pathologist, Dr. Scott Wagner.

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