Originally created 01/31/05

Victims to face former crematory operator



LaFAYETTE, Ga. - For more than four years, Ray Brent Marsh let the corpses pile up on his northwest Georgia property - behind his house, in the woods and crammed into burial vaults.

The former crematory operator apologized to family members after pleading guilty in November to dumping more than 330 corpses and giving relatives cement dust instead of the ashes of their loved ones.

But Marsh, who faces 12 years in prison when his sentencing hearing starts Monday, still hasn't explained why he dumped the bodies rather than cremate them. He will be given a chance to speak at the hearing, as will members of his family.

About 30 relatives of people whose bodies were dumped are also expected to testify, though that number could grow. The prosecutor sent 500 letters to victims' families inviting them to appear at the hearing.

Victims were not given a time limit for statements, so the hearing may be continued to Tuesday.

"I think each person will be given as much time as they need to say what they want to say," said Janet Grant, a victim-witness coordinator for the Walker County District Attorney's Office. "We're not going to rush anybody. Everybody deserves their time."

Leanne Dolin, clerk to Judge James Bodiford, said the court had also received 244 victim impact statements as of Friday.

Marsh, 31, pleaded guilty to 787 counts, including theft, abuse of a corpse, burial service fraud and making false statements. Under a deal with prosecutors, he could get up to 12 years in prison, though the final sentence will be decided by the judge.

Marsh has also pleaded guilty to related charges in Tennessee and received a 12-year sentence to run concurrently with the Georgia sentence.

Marsh allegedly stopped performing cremations at the Tri-State Crematory in Noble in 1997, when he took over the family business. Authorities discovered the ghastly scene on his property in February 2002 after receiving an anonymous tip.

Relatives have reached an $80 million civil settlement with Marsh, though it is unclear how much of that will ever be paid. A lawsuit against funeral homes that sent bodies to Marsh's crematory was settled for $36 million, and much of that has been paid.