- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - The former operator of a Georgia crematory where more than 330 decaying corpses were found in 2002, stacked in outbuildings and scattered in nearby woods, was freed Wednesday after serving more than a decade in prison, authorities said.

Ray Brent Marsh was released from Central State Prison in Macon after serving his 12-year sentence, said Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gwendolyn Hogan.

Marsh, now 43, ran the Tri-State Crematory near the tiny community of Noble, about 100 miles northwest of Atlanta. After the bodies were found he pleaded guilty to nearly 800 criminal charges related to fraud and corpse abuse.

Reports about the corpses left to rot in the Georgia heat had enraged community residents, some of whom had entrusted their loved ones’ bodies to Marsh for cremation.

Marsh’s lawyer, McCracken “Ken” Poston, said he believes many of them have now forgiven his client.

“I hope everyone in northwest Georgia who professes to be a Christian practices what they preach, to embrace him and forgive him,” Poston said by phone Wednesday, after he picked up Marsh from prison and was driving him back to Walker County. “I think the majority of the community will accept him.”

Marsh’s plans aren’t certain, but he now holds masters and doctoral degrees in theology, which he earned while in prison, Poston said.

The grisly case drew international news coverage. A team that searched for remains of victims at the site of the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, came to Noble to recover remains from the crematory the following year, The Daily Report of Atlanta reported Wednesday. Georgia’s emergency management agency called it one of the largest operations to recover bodies in American history.

It inspired a book, “A Long Day at the End of the World” by Brent Hendricks, whose father’s body was among those discovered. It also led to a fictionalized 2012 film “Sahkanaga.” The title comes from a Cherokee word that describes the Appalachian mountains that rise near the crematory.

Though Marsh has apologized repeatedly, he has never directly explained why he didn’t cremate the bodies as relatives had been promised.

Poston said Wednesday he believes mercury poisoning played a role.

“I had him tested early on where it showed that his body was ravaged by the effects of mercury toxicity,” Poston said.

Though many corpses were found dumped, Marsh had cremated several others. Poston believes the mercury from fillings in their teeth entered his client’s system during the cremation process.

“I believe there was a problem with the machine that it would not fully burn bodies, and I think dealing with that and the effects of the mercury on his mind just caused all of it,” Poston said.

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