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On Tuesday, Feb. 13, the day before Valentine's, it will have been five years since investigators found hundreds of human remains littering the property around Tri-State Crematory in Walker County.
And the effects are still resonating.
In 2002, the discovery led to the arrest of crematory operator Brent Marsh. After pleading guilty to 787 counts including theft by taking, abuse of corpse and making false statements, Marsh is serving a 12-year sentence in a Georgia prison. He will become eligible for parole in July 2008.
Tim Masons mother and father were sent to the crematory. The LaFayette accountant said there are still constant reminders. Just this week he heard the body farm doctor Michael Bass talking about the crematory on a local radio talk show and reports of Marshs alleged mercury poisoning have popped up in the papers and on television.
Mason said he feels basically the same as when it happened five years ago, saying most of the reminders are stirred up by Marshs attorney McCracken Ken Poston.
As you remember your parents every day you have to think about the crematory and what Brent did, he said. (Poston) always says he wants to bring closure to the families with his theories, but the best way to bring closure is for him to shut up and go away and quit reminding us.
Poston pointed the finger back at the media, saying news organizations could just stop publishing stories although, he contended, that wouldnt serve the public interest. In particular, Poston was referring to his recent theory that mercury poisoning could have had an effect on Marsh.
I would say a greater number of people would like to know why (Marsh did what he did), he said. (Cobb Judicial Circuit Superior Court) Judge (James) Bodiford himself asked why from the bench.
* Feb. 13, 2002: Police find first remains at Tri-State Crematory in Noble.
* Aug. 20, 2002: With police watching from the rooftop of the Walker County Courthouse and mingling with a heated crowd, Marsh is released on bond from the county jail.
* May 20, 2003: Ray Marsh, father of Brent Marsh and former proprietor of the business, dies.
* February 2003: Authorities stop trying to identify remains, stopping with 112 of 334 sets of remains unidentified.
* Aug. 27, 2003: Marsh indicted on 787 charges, including theft by taking, abuse of corpse, fraud and making false statements on a death certificate.
* Nov. 19, 2004: Marsh pleads guilty to all charges.
* Jan. 5, 2005: Marsh turns himself in to begin serving 12-year sentence.
Walker County still seeking compensation
Walker County Coordinator David Ashburn said the county is through working, but the legal proceedings are still up for grabs.
The county is seeking $2 million restitution from the Marsh family and funeral homes for recovering the remains and ensuing cleanup. The case is still before the state appeals court.
While most of the countys involvement has passed, Walker County Coroner DeWayne Wilson still has to handle some aspects of the case.
Im still dealing with it, Wilson said. I have 178 (sets of unclaimed) cremains in my office. Ill have them indefinitely.
Much of the work fell under Wilsons aegis, but it wasnt something he had in mind when he ran for the coroners position.
Not in my wildest dream did I ever think I would have to deal with something as bizarre as that, he said.
Factoid: A typical outline for a murder case is 35-50 pages. The outline for the crematory case exceeded 500 pages and was growing until Brent Marsh pleaded guilty and brought the trial to an end. The rest of the paperwork filled an 8-by-16 foot room in the sheriffs department.
Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert Buzz Franklin said he has put the case behind him.
I understand there is still some of the civil case proceedings going on but Im not connected with that at all, Franklin said. From our perspective its all completed, concluded and in the past.
For Walker County, its something thats best put in the past, he said. I dont think its anything thats ever likely to happen again. Its a case that literally changed the law in Georgia and across the country.
Reflecting on the criminal case, Franklin said it wasnt the most important case he has prosecuted but was definitely the biggest. For example, a typical outline for a murder case is 35-50 pages. The outline for the crematory case exceeded 500 pages and was growing until Marsh pleaded guilty and brought the trial to an end. The rest of the paperwork filled an 8-by-16 foot room in the sheriffs department.
Still feeling the pain
Janet Grant, the victim-witness coordinator in Franklins office, said she helped a lot of people during the investigation and has stayed in touch with some them.
Every now and then Ill get an e-mail from one of them saying, I was just thinking about you and wanted to say hello, Grant said. It was just so devastating for everybody.
Grant said the stress and emotion she shared during the course of the case was almost overwhelming but her faith in God helped her through it.
There was just a part of me that said I just cant handle it but somehow or another everybody was able to come together and support each other, she said. Im a Christian and the only thing that kept me going was prayer.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation Public Affairs Chief John Bankhead said he couldnt believe its been five years.
It doesnt seem like it ever ended, Bankhead said. Its one of those unique issues that doesnt seem to have an end.
Bankhead said its the biggest case hes been involved with in his 19 years as public affairs chief.
I think it was probably one of the biggest news stories in the history of Georgia as far as the media interest and the length of time that media interest continued after the initial problem was uncovered, he said.
The GBI still has a link on its website at www.ganet.org/gbi for those who may be able to assist with the identification of some remains, he said.
Well keep it on our website and dont plan to take it off, he said.
To review court documents filed during the Tri-State Crematory case, visit the Seventh District Court Administrative Districts website at www.7jad.com and click the link at the bottom right of the page.
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