BLUFFTON, Ind. (WANE) The man already facing multiple charges in connection with the death of a 3-year-old boy whose body was found inside a box that had been set on fire in a wooded area in Wells County has pleaded guilty to murder.
Zachary Barnes, 31, appeared in Wells County court Wednesday morning following the filing of a murder charge against him. Immediately after his initial appearance on the murder charge, Barnes pleaded guilty to it.
The murder charge came as the result of a ruling in May by the Wells County Coroner that Owen Collins died from blunt force trauma and that the little boy’s death was a homicide. Owen’s body was found on January 18, 2015 after he had been reported missing.
Barnes, who is the boyfriend of Breanna Arnold, Owen’s mother, has also been charged in connection with the boy’s death. So far she has not been charged with murder. However both were previously charged with the following offenses:
- Neglect of a dependent resulting in death – level 1 felony
- Two counts of neglect of a dependent – level 5 felony
- Obstruction of justice – level 6 felony
- Altering the scene of death – level 6 felony
- Abuse of a corpse – level 6 felony
- Dealing in Methamphetamine – level 4 felony
An unidentified teenager has also been arrested in connection with Collins’ death. Prosecutors have filed a motion to charge the teen as an adult. A hearing has been set for July 13.
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Barnes will be sentenced to 50 years in prison. Under Indiana’s new sentencing statute, he would be required to serve 75% of the sentence, or 37.5 years. Sentencing has been set for August 6, 2015.
Details of the case and what the suspects initially told police:
Collins’ body was found January 18 by police after he had been reported missing.
According to information gathered by police after interviewing the three suspects, they were all “shooting dope” in their Normandy Drive home on Friday, January 16 into the morning of Saturday, january 17. The suspects told police that when Arnold went into the back bedroom on Saturday to check on 3-year-old Owen Collins and his 6-year-old-brother, Owen was dead.
After finding Owen dead, Barnes said he suggested they get rid of him.
Barnes and the teen told police they wrapped the child in plastic wrap and placed him into a dresser drawer. On Sunday morning, he and the teenager put Owen in a cardboard box and got a ride from a woman to Marion. The woman, who spoke to police later, said Barnes put a cardboard box into the back seat of her car. She said she did not know what was in the box.
Police were told that before arriving in Marion, the three stopped at a wooded area and Barnes and the teen dropped off the box with Collins in it. Barnes said he then poured nail polish on the box and set it on fire.
While in Marion, Barnes spoke to his brother, Joseph Barnes, and told him that Owen had gone missing. Joseph Barnes called the Wells County Sheriff’s Department and asked if any children had been reported missing. None had, but the Wells County Sheriff’s Department said they would look into Owen’s disappearance.
Police arrived at the Normandy Drive home around 12:30 p.m.; Owen was nowhere to be found. Officers took Arnold to the police station with her 6-year-old son, where she signed consent forms allowing police to search the home.