LaFAYETTE, Ga. – Former crematory operator Ray Brent Marsh (search) was sentenced to 12 years in prison Monday after relatives of some of the 334 people whose bodies he left to decay on his property confronted him on the stand about why he did it.
"How did you eat and sleep knowing the bodies were in the back yard?" asked Letha Shropshire of LaFayette (search), whose mother's body was supposed to have been cremated.
"I believe you will come to meet your maker one day and the hell you put us through will come back to you," said Natasha Mann, of Adairsville. "You may not have killed my father, but a part of my heart died when you put his body in a vault with 20 others."
After nearly two dozen relatives spoke for more than six hours, Marsh stood up and apologized.
"I can't give you the answers that you want, but I can apologize," he said, before promising to write a letter of apology to all the families that would "tell more."
When the sentence was handed down, Marsh said: "I will not cry when I go into my jail cell. I will not whimper. I will accept my punishment. I will do my time."
Instead of performing cremations, Marsh, former operator of the Tri-State Crematory (search) in northwest Georgia, dumped the bodies behind his house and crammed them into burial vaults. He gave cement dust to the relatives instead of the ashes of their loved ones.
Agreeing with the terms of a plea deal, Judge James Bodiford sentenced Marsh to 12 years in prison followed by a lengthy probation and a $20,000 fine.
Some relatives came from as far away as Indiana and Michigan to testify Monday. At the beginning of the hearing, the judge explained to the families that Marsh cannot be compelled to explain his crime.
"There's been a lot of emotion in this case," District Attorney Herbert Franklin said. "Naturally, there's going to be emotion and that's part of the victim impact statements."
Marsh has pleaded guilty to 787 counts, including theft, abuse of a corpse, burial service fraud and making false statements.
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.
Marsh, 31, also has pleaded guilty to related charges in Tennessee and received a 12-year sentence to run concurrently with the Georgia sentence. He took over the family business in 1997.