McCracken Poston said he believes Ray Brent Marsh was suffering the effects of long-term exposure to mercury vapors from a poorly built ventilation system that vented gas and particles from cremations into the room where Marsh worked.
Brent has never been able to articulate a reason to himself, to me, or to anybody as to why this happened, Poston said.
Poston said Marshs behavior and health problems suffered by his late father, crematory founder Ray Marsh, match the effects of long-term exposure to mercury vapors caused by burning dental fillings during cremation. Many dental fillings are made of a compound of various metals, called dental amalgam, that includes mercury.
A test on Marshs hair in 2004 indicated elevated mercury and the opinion of a leading scientist supports his theory, Poston said, though he admitted it is not a definitive answer.
Is it conclusive? No, Poston said. But it sure makes sense to me.
Marsh, who authorities say dumped the bodies and passed off fake cremains to loved ones, is serving a 12-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to 787 counts of theft, abuse of a corpse, burial service fraud and making false statements.
Poston said he has submitted material supporting his theory to the state parole board. He said he is talking about it publicly because the affected families and the public deserve an explanation for Marshs actions.
I hope that the release of this information can give some comfort to those who were most deeply affected by the disaster and who have been looking for answers, he said.
But Postons theory is being met with skepticism.
I think its to try and curry favor with the parole board and is a publicity stunt, Prosecutor Herbert Franklin said Tuesday. If he was affected by mercury poisoning, it only affected him in what he was doing at his work. He was going to college. He was on the board of tax equalization. He was a fine, upstanding young man except for what he was doing at work.
Chattanooga, Tenn., resident Joe Oden, whose wifes body was found at the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, said he also thinks Poston is simply trying to help Marsh get paroled.
I just dont buy it, Oden said of the theory. I think its hogwash.
Dr. Kris Sperry, Georgias chief medical examiner, said Postons mercury poisoning theory is not scientifically well supported.
The affidavit, if you read it carefully, uses the words if and may a lot in regards to exposure to mercury, said Sperry, who led the effort to identify the recovered bodies. It doesnt meet a standard of proof. You have to have information that mercury poisoning is more likely than not the cause.
Sperry said a current blood test would reveal if Marsh has suffered overexposure to mercury. Poston said he is open to further testing