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Archive for Saturday, January 8, 2005

Crematory operator pleads guilty to charges

January 8, 2005

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— A former crematory operator who admits dumping 334 bodies and passing off cement dust as their remains pleaded guilty Friday to Tennessee charges and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

About a dozen people told Ray Brent Marsh what his mishandling of their relatives' remains put them through before he received his sentence, which was part of an agreement between officials in Tennessee and Georgia, where his crematory was located.

"I've caused much harm. I've caused much grief," the shackled Marsh said. "You are right. I did not do my job. I can only apologize for that."

Marsh allegedly stopped performing cremations at the crematory in Noble, Ga., in 1997, when he took over the family business. Investigators discovered the ghastly scene of bodies scattered on the crematory property in February 2002 after receiving an anonymous tip.

At least 250 bodies from Tennessee were sent to the crematory since 1998, according to state records.

It took dental records, DNA tests and the identification of an implanted blood transfusion device for authorities to identify the remains of Lydia Lennon, dumped on the crematory grounds.

"I disagree with the leniency," said her husband of 44 years, retired FBI agent Patrick J. Lennon. He said Marsh has showed a "complete and utter lack of remorse."

Marsh pleaded guilty to Tennessee charges of abuse of corpses, theft of services and criminal simulation for failing to perform cremations. In Georgia, he pleaded guilty in November to 787 counts of theft, abuse of a corpse, burial service fraud and making false statements.

The Tennessee sentence is to be served simultaneously with the same recommended sentence in Georgia, followed by a lengthy probation, defense lawyer Ken Poston said.

Bradley County Dist. Atty. Jerry Estes said if Marsh were paroled in Georgia he would be transferred to the custody of Tennessee officials.

Prosecutors said the plea agreement prohibits Marsh from getting any financial benefit from any book or movie deal. They said he has never told them why he neglected the corpses.

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.

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