State vs. Clara Marsh (06CR22209); State vs. LaShea Marsh (06CR22210), Walker (Georgia) Superior Court

Ronald Michael Cordova

Case Conclusion Date:August 15, 2008

Practice Area:Criminal Defense

Outcome:All charges dismissed

Description:During the State's prosecution of Tommy Ray-Brent Marsh, the last operator of the now infamous Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Georgia, public outcry inflamed by media reports of the findings of bodies in Noble, Georgia, along with premature statements and misrepresentations by the state medical examiner that the hudreds of bodies found on the site "go back twenty years" put a great deal of pressure on local officials to arrest each member of the family of operator Brent Marsh, who himself had only operated the family-run crematory for approximately six years. The medical examiner later recanted his earlier opinion, indicating that all of the uncremated bodies were from the six year period that Brent Marsh solely operated the facility. The damage was done, however, and with state and federal elected officials looking on, the family of Brent Marsh was arrested and paraded before the battery of national and international media. Arrested were Brent Marsh's father, Tommy Ray Marsh; his mother Clara Marsh; and sister LaShea Marsh. Most interestingly, however, was that the only charges that the state could muster regarded alleged administrative errors, where the defendants had allegedly signed state form death certificates of properly cremated bodies in the early years of the crematory, on a line on the form reserved for the signature of "funeral director," when they were not in fact licensed funeral directors. The first strategy of the defense was to locate and interview a number of retired state officials from the Georgia Department of Human Resources, Vital Records Division. A review of state policies over the twenty years of the existence of the crematory indicated that there had been changes in the form of the official state death certificate over those years, and there existed an extensive record of apparent disagreement as to who should sign the forms as the person over the final disposition of the body represented by each form. A retired state employee was located in Middle Georgia who gave an affidavit that she had on many occasions over the relevant period of time instructed the representatives of the Tri-State Crematory to sign the said forms on the line designated for "funeral director," even though she knew they were not licensed as such, because "there was a lot of pressure for us to complete the forms," and she even admitted putting the names of the crematory's representatives on the form if it had been submitted to the Atlanta agency unsigned. When the defense presented this affidavit and a number of others that portrayed how such procedures were common, an agreement was reached with the state to place the cases on the dead docket for a period of two years, after which all charges against the defendants were dismissed. Although arrested, patriarch Tommy Ray Marsh had passed away in 2003, three years before the indictments were brought. He was specifically vindicated by affidavit of the defense witness. Tommy Ray, Clara and LaShea Marsh were never accused of any offense related to the uncremated bodies which gave rise to the charges against Brent Marsh.

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