LaFAYETTE, Ga. – They came hoping to hear a former crematory operator explain why he left their loved ones' bodies to rot in piles across his property. They left empty-handed.
Some haven't been able to sleep; others still have nightmares. All wanted to know why Marsh did what he did.
"How would you feel if your daughter was treated in that fashion?" asked Joe Oden of Chattanooga, Tenn., whose wife was one of the victims. "You'd feel the same as these people."
Marsh, as he did when he pleaded guilty in November, chose not to explain himself.
"I can't give you the answers that you want, but I can apologize," Marsh told the families, just before Judge James Bodiford sentenced him to 12 years in prison.
As victims' relatives — some from as far away as Indiana and Michigan — testified, Marsh sat silent. Other than nodding at times during the testimony, he stared straight ahead and only occasionally swallowed.
After all the relatives had the opportunity to speak, Marsh stood up, looked at the family members and apologized.
Marsh asked the families for "forgiveness for my sins," and added, "Today must start the healing."
Agreeing with the terms of a plea deal, Bodiford sentenced Marsh to the prison term followed by a lengthy probation and a $20,000 fine. He will get credit for the nearly eight months already served in jail.
"We need finality in this case," the judge said.
In his statements before his 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."
During the victim testimony, 23 family members took turns expressing their disgust with the crimes. At the start of the hearing, the judge warned the families that Marsh cannot be compelled to explain his crime.
The prosecutor sent 500 letters to victims' families inviting them to speak at the hearing. The court had received at least 244 victim impact statements.
Marsh allegedly stopped performing cremations at the Tri-State Crematory in the late 1990s, when he took over the family business. Investigators acting on a tip in February 2002 discovered a ghastly scene of bodies dumped in woods, buildings and sometimes stacked on top of each other. Marsh had given relatives cement dust instead of ashes.
Marsh pleaded guilty to 787 counts of theft, abuse of a corpse, burial service fraud and making false statements. He has also pleaded guilty to related charges in Tennessee and agreed to the same 12-year prison sentence, which is to run concurrently with the Georgia sentence.
Some relatives said the 12-year prison sentence was not nearly enough.
"This man needs to be punished and get a sentence that reflects 787 felonies," said Julie Kinder of Hixson, Tenn., whose father was taken to Marsh's crematory. "You're a sicko in my opinion."