Judge adjourns plea agreement hearing in Johnstown funeral home case

Exterior of the Ehle and Barnett Family Funeral Home in January

Exterior of the Ehle and Barnett Family Funeral Home in January

JOHNSTOWN The Johnstown funeral home owner accused of improperly handling human remains was set to take a plea deal Monday afternoon in Fulton County but the hearing was adjourned for at least a couple of months.

Brian M. Barnett, the owner and former director of the Ehle-Barnett Funeral Home at 15 North William St. in Johnstown was expected to plead to third-degree grand larceny, a class D felony.

“Which was the highest charge we could get,” said Amanda Nellis, the acting Fulton County District Attorney early Monday afternoon.

However, by late afternoon, the case had been adjourned by Judge Michael Smrtic, who Nellis said wanted to wait until everything was finalized with the investigation.

“There’s still ashes who we don’t know who they belong to,” Nellis said.

Nellis said she’s not sure they will find out who the remains belong to in the next couple of months.

Smrtic could not be reached for comment.

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 1/2 to seven years in prison, according to Nellis.

However, if the case continues to be adjourned, Nellis said she will likely end up bringing it before a grand jury.

“We don’t like cases to sit for an extended period of time,” she said.

If it goes to a grand jury, she said the plea agreement may be revisited.

The prosecutor said her office was also going to be working with the Department of Probation to request restitution.

“He had requested more funds for services than were performed,” Nellis said.

Right now, she said restitution is already over $3,000 but she expects it to climb higher.

She also said there are at least 10 that have been affected but expects that number to increase as well.

The remains of several bodies were discovered in January after police said they received a complaint from a family on Jan. 10 that was unable to reach Barnett for several weeks after hiring him to conduct a cremation. Two of those bodies were found in Barnett’s garage, in what police described as 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.

Barnett’s attorney Ted Hartman declined to comment on the plea agreement.

“It’s nothing personal, I just really don’t comment on my client’s ongoing cases,” he said.

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