Johnstown funeral home director pleads guilty over mishandling of bodies
JOHNSTOWN — Brian Barnett, former director of the Barnett Funeral Home in Johnstown, appeared in front of Judge Michael Smrtic in Fulton County Court.
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He pleaded guilty to six counts of the 37-count indictment.
These are cases involving seventeen people who passed away, and all of their families.
He pleaded guilty to concealment of a human corpse, improper burial, grand larceny, scheme to defraud, and operating a funeral home without a license.
One victim’s name is Shirley Anderson. Her name was read aloud several times in court. She wasn’t cremated, as the family thought, but kept in a cardboard box.
“It’s been a long wait from when we first found out that my mother’s body hadn’t been cremated and was in a cardboard box in the garage of the funeral home right behind me and I passed it every day. I go to the post office every day and that funeral home is opposite the post office. Just knowing that she had been in that horrid garage in a cardboard box! This woman, 86 years old, was the nicest lady you could ever imagine,” said Anderson’s daughter, Andrea Healy. “A teacher, a Sunday school teacher for 40 years. And then hearing her name so much today in court, it’s been extremely emotional.”
In an important step for the victims’ families, prosecutors made sure that many names were read into the record, not just the ones in the counts to which Barnett pleaded guilty.
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Grand larceny was the top charge. Barnett admitted to stealing more than $37,000. Fulton County District Attorney Michael Poulin says the plea agreement will carry the same sentence as if Barnett had been convicted at trial.
“He pled guilty to the top count, one of the charges was the top count of grand larceny, which is a D felony,” said Poulin. “He’s going to receive two and a third- to seven years, which is the maximum he could receive under the current sentencing guidelines.”
“Glad to see it come to a conclusion for the families,” said Johnstown Police Chief David Gilbo, whose department worked tirelessly on this complicated, detailed case. “It’s to the point now where they really want to start moving on. We’re going to be able to release, through the coroner’s office, some of the remains back to the families.”
Family members wanted to express their gratitude for all the work of the police investigators, the coroner, and prosecutors on the difficult case.
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The police chief says now is the time for lawmakers to increase the penalties for concealment of a human corpse.
Sentencing is set for June 26.
“I think that he finally took ownership of it was very important,” said Cindy Twaite, Shirley Anderson’s daughter. “You felt the sadness in the room from all the families, but also that sense of finally we’ve heard that he knows what he did was horrific, and it was.”
“So many families!” added her sister, Andrea Healy. “And those poor people that will never know what happened to the cremains or their loved ones. They’ll never know!”