Toddler’s killer sentenced to 50 years

BLUFFTON, Ind. (WANE) A man who admitted to the January death of a 3-year-old boy whose body was found burned in a woods in rural Wells County was sentenced Thursday.

Zachary Barnes, 31, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the death of 3-year-old Owen Collins, whose body was found on Jan. 18 after he had been reported missing. Barnes, who is the boyfriend of Breanna Arnold, Owen’s mother, pleaded guilty in June to murdering the toddler after an autopsy found he died of blunt force trauma to the head rather than suspected toxic overdose.

Mug shots of  Zachary S. Barnes and Breanna J. Arnold courtesy the Wells County Sheriff's Department.
Mug shots of Zachary S. Barnes and Breanna J. Arnold courtesy the Wells County Sheriff’s Department.
Police found the body of 3-year-old Owen Collins in a woods about 12 miles away from his home.
Police found the body of 3-year-old Owen Collins in a woods about 12 miles away from his home.

Arnold faces a slew of felonies in the case, including Class A neglect of a dependent resulting in death. A teenager, 16-year-old Zachary Barker, will be tried as an adult for his own role in the killing. Barker was charged with six felonies last month.

Inside a Wells County courtroom Thursday morning, the prosecution argued that while the terms of Barnes’ plea deal called for him to serve five decades in prison, that there is no appropriate sentence for the killing of a 3-year-old child, calling it, “The most heinous of crimes.” The state then requested Barnes receive a maximum sentence – 50 years.

Barnes was emotional as he read a prepared statement to the court, saying he was “lost in the addiction of toxic drugs” and “never wanted this to happen. He told the court and community that he was “sorry from the bottom of my heart, to the depths of my soul,” adding he will “face and accept the consequences.” Barnes said those consequences “will forever haunt me” before apologizing to Owen’s father,” saying later, “It shatters my heart to know that I belong there … until my dying breath, I will forever be haunted by this nightmare.”

He added: “Most of all I’m sorry to the disgrace I’ve become to my family.”

Before issuing a sentence, the judge in the case said Barnes had a history of criminal activity and added he was on probation at the time he killed Owen. The judge called it “Unbelievably tragic that this child lived in the conditions he did,” and said Barnes’ lifestyle contributed to the toddler’s death.

Outside the courthroom, Owen’s father, Tyler, told Newschannel 15 he didn’t believe a word Barnes said, saying his apologies rang empty because he himself had been addicted to drugs but never killed his child. The father said he hoped Barnes would receive more prison time.

Barnes was credited with 109 days served.

Indiana law requires Barnes to serve 75 percent of his sentence.

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.

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