WALKER COUNTY, Ga. — The man at the center of the Tri-State Crematory scandal walked free from prison Wednesday after serving his full 12-year sentence.
Ray Brent Marsh pleaded guilty in 2004 to various charges, including theft by deception, abusing a corpse, burial service-related fraud and giving false statements, after the bodies of 334 people in various stages of decomposition were found scattered across his crematory property in Noble, Georgia.
Marsh could have been sentenced to thousands of years, but took a plea deal that gave him a 12-year sentence.
Channel 2's Ross Cavitt was the only news reporter at the Central State Prison in Bibb County Wednesday morning as Marsh was walked out by his attorney, McCracken Poston.
Poston was Marsh’s original attorney. He represented him through the early 2000s and then came back 12 years later to pick him up at prison.
Poston says his client's release is another test of the Christian theology of forgiveness.
"I think it's time to forgive Ray Brent Marsh. It's time to welcome him back to the community. I just want people to leave him alone and give him a chance," Poston said.
Marsh, who came from a respected family with deep ties in Walker County, has never offered an explanation for his actions.
In 2012, a movie was made about the incident.
“We don’t know why it happened, and that’s real life, which isn’t as black and white as we make it seem,” said movie director John Henry Summerour, who grew up in Chickamauga, a town of little more than 2,000 residents in Walker County. “There’s still a lot of unresolved feelings, a lot of people who are still struggling with what happened.”
After ordering several forensic tests for Marsh, Poston told Cavitt that he believes mercury exposure at the crematory is to blame for his client’s choices.
“His metals were all over the board. I was told by an expert at the University of Kentucky this was indicative of mercury exposure,” Poston said.
He believes mercury fillings in people’s teeth released a toxin during the cremation process that slowly took its toll on Marsh.
“I think it affected his thinking,” Poston said. “(Failing equipment) in combination with the mercury exposure caused effectively the mad hatter syndrome.”
He says the longer Marsh spent away from the Tri-State Crematory site, the more level-headed and clearer he seemed.
In his 12 years in the prison system, Marsh earned a master's and doctorate in theology. %
Marsh has never spoken about his crimes, and Poston says provisions in Marsh's plea deal will likely keep his mouth shut for good.
"If he ever says anything that's interpreted he might make anything from it, it triggers a provision in the sentence where he owes Walker County $8 million, so that might prompt you to be a little quiet, I think,” Poston said.
That provision was designed to keep Marsh from inking a book or movie deal or anything to profit off the tragic scenario discovered by the GBI in 2002.
In a statement to Channel 2 Action News, the parole board says it did consider Marsh for parole in 2008 and 2013, but denied him.
He is now on probation for the rest of his life. The conditions of that probation include getting a job.
Marsh’s lawyer says now that he’s out, Marsh is hoping to quietly fade away.
"I just want people to leave him alone and give him a chance,” Poston said.
“He’s out. He’s done his time. He will live his life and he will do the right things by people,” Marsh’s other attorney, Stuart James, said.