Officials still trying to identify, locate remains in Johnstown funeral home case

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Exterior of the Ehle and Barnett Family Funeral Home in Johnstown in January.

JOHNSTOWN — Six sets of remains are still missing and three remain unidentified in the case involving a funeral home director in Johnstown who is accused of improperly handling human remains, according to Fulton County acting District Attorney Amanda Nellis. 

Brian M. Barnett was set to take a plea deal Aug.16 in the case, but Judge Michael Smrtic delayed such an arrangement until the case is fully resolved. No new court date has been scheduled yet for Barnett, Nellis said Monday. 

Nellis said that Barnett — the owner and former director of the Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home at 15 North William St. in Johnstown —  had been expected last week to plead guilty to third-degree grand larceny, a class D felony. As part of the agreement, Barnett would have also pleaded guilty to concealment of a human corpse, a class E felony, and improper burial and operating a funeral home without a license, which are both charges under the public health law. Under that plea agreement, Barnett would have faced 2.5 to seven years in prison, according to Nellis.

The remains of several bodies were discovered in January after police received a complaint from a family on Jan. 10 that was allegedly unable to reach Barnett for several weeks after hiring him to conduct a cremation. Police said two of those bodies were found in Barnett’s garage, and described them as in an advanced state of decomposition.

Barnett allegedly neglected to cremate bodies and stored them at the funeral home in an attempt to evade investigation, according to court documents. He also allegedly gave families incorrect remains and took money for funeral services never provided, court papers say. In addition, Barnett is accused of concealing a decomposing human corpse on the first floor of a residence, “surrounded in children’s toys where the child readily had access,” court documents read.

In total, 20 sets of remains, including bodies and ashes, were recovered, Nellis said. Those remains are with the Fulton County Coroner, who has been working to confirm their identities.

“She has reached out to anyone she can for assistance,” Nellis said.

However, Nellis said that ashes cannot be tested for DNA. 

Nellis also said her office knows that six other remains were taken to the funeral home, but investigators have not found them. 

Fulton County Coroner Margaret Luck could not be reached for comment. 

Barnett could face additional charges, but Nellis said those additional charges would all be lower-level offenses.

“And, again, if he does at any point decide to take a plea, the victims in the case (whether or not charges were actually filed) will not in any way shape or form be silenced,” Nellis wrote in an email. “They will all be given their opportunity to speak.”

Nellis said Barnett remains out on bail. Barnett and his attorney Ted Hartman have remained silent on the case. 

“I have no comment on any of that at this point,” Hartman said Monday regarding the plea not happening.

By Shenandoah Briere

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