New Iberia native Annie Barker died in May of a suspected heroin overdose. When her family tried to have her cremated they were told no, in what could be the first challenge to a state law that changed following a KATC Investigation.
Up until 2020, state law said coroners could not issue cremation permits in deaths involving suspicious circumstances or crimes. But the KATC Investigation Body of Evidence uncovered hundreds of cases where cremation permits were issued in criminal cases. When we started asking questions, coroners lobbied to change the law to clear up “legal contradictions.”
The law now allows coroners to issue cremation permits in criminal cases, once the coroner’s investigation is complete.
“If I have to go steal my daughter I will go steal my daughter. I want my daughter.”
Annie Barker grew up in New Iberia, but spent her final years in Port Allen. It’s where she lost her battle with addiction and her life to opioids.
“Everybody loved her,” said her mother Matina Ables. “Everybody that met her and knew her was crazy about Annie.”
Ables said her daughter struggled with drugs and addiction for years. She knew in her heart something was wrong when she got a late-night phone call from Annie’s father.
“Annie was on life support, she was dead,” said Ables, who traveled to Port Allen to be by her daughter’s side in the hospital. “I stayed with my daughter for four days on life support praying she would wake up, knowing she wouldn’t.”
Annie Barker died on May 31st. She was 34 years old. In the midst of the family’s grief came anger when they tried to make final arrangements. They wanted to have Annie cremated but were told no.
“We need our baby back to put her to rest. I’m going to cremate her and put her with her grandmother like she wanted me to,” said Ables. “I want my daughter. If I have to go and steal her I will go and steal her. I want my daughter."
Why was the cremation permit denied?
The West Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office denied the request for a cremation permit.
“I feel for this family, but I want to err this office on the side of caution,” said the coroner’s chief investigator Yancy Guerin. “Even though they tried to change the law after the article you presented earlier, I feel that it’s still mandatory to deny the permit.”
Guerin spoke out against the practice of issuing cremation permits in homicide cases in Body of Evidence. He says the change in state law allows coroners to cremate in criminal cases, but doesn’t mandate it.
“I’ve [denied the permit] for a purpose,” he said. “And the purpose is to preserve evidence.”
The West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office confirms an investigation is underway into Annie Barker’s death, and an arrest will be made if deputies can find the person who dealt Annie drugs.
“The hospital indicated she died of an overdose of heroin, and someone could possibly be charged with second-degree murder, because it was unlawfully distributed to Annie Barker,” said Guerin.
Guerin says the office is caught between the law and the wishes of the family, but will work with the family to possibly petition a judge to order cremation if that’s what the family wants.
“Her life was taken, we want to make sure that someone if caught cannot have any wiggle room and is going to get justice in West Baton Rouge Parish,” said Guerin.
Meanwhile in New Iberia, Annie’s family feels caught in the middle too. Between grief, closure, and accountability.
“They have all the evidence they need,” said Ables. “I’m not going to lose a criminal case. I’ll make sure the person who sold her [the drugs] gets caught.”
Full toxicology results are still pending for Annie Barker.
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