- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

ROME, Ga. (AP) — Nearly 1,700 people whose relatives’ bodies were found scattered across a crematory’s property are suing the owner for all he’s worth — but that may not be much.

The lawsuit against Ray Brent Marsh and the estate of his father, the former owner, goes to trial today, 2 years after the remains of 334 persons were discovered at the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, near Georgia’s border with Tennessee.

Investigators found heaps of decaying bodies from Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee that were supposed to have been cremated. Complete and partial human remains were found in storage buildings, burial vaults, pits and the surrounding forest.

Tests revealed that the crematory gave some families cement dust instead of their loved one’s ashes.

One of the plaintiffs, Anthony Schuchman, said he’s seeking about $1,500 for the cost of cremating his son and the cost of digging up his son’s grave in an unsuccessful attempt to find a body part large enough to be identified.

Gilbert Schuchman died Dec. 29, 1992, and was supposed to have been cremated at Tri-State.

“We don’t know if that’s him or not,” Mr. Schuchman, 85, said.

Attorneys for the 1,671 plaintiffs say it will be more difficult to collect money from Mr. Marsh than to convince a jury of his guilt. A judge ruled that Mr. Marsh was too poor to afford his own lawyer in the criminal case, but he’s being represented in the civil case by attorneys paid for by his insurance company.

“It’s probably about as strong a case against Brent Marsh as you can possibly have,” said Robert Darroch, an attorney for the families. “Most of them are still incredibly emotional about what happened. This ruined the memory about the passing of one of their loved ones.”

A separate lawsuit went to trial last spring. It lasted about two weeks before all 58 funeral homes named as defendants for sending bodies to the crematory from 1988 to 2002 reached settlements totaling $36 million.

The lawsuit doesn’t specify the amount of money the families are seeking from Mr. Marsh. This trial will only determine liability. If Mr. Marsh is found responsible, a second trial a few months later would award damages.

If the families win, they are expected to try to get payment from the Marshes’ insurance company, Georgia Farm Bureau.

Georgia Farm Bureau agreed to pay for the Marshes’ defense but not assume liability. However, at least two lawsuits are pending over the existence of insurance and whether Georgia Farm Bureau would bear any responsibility.

Mr. Marsh faces 787 charges in a criminal trial set for Oct. 11. If convicted, he could be sentenced to more than 8,000 years in prison.

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