By Joe Gorman
The man indicted in a 1974 triple murder in Canfield Township is in prison for a double homicide from 1983 that involved theft of $600,000 worth of cocaine.
James P. Ferrara, 64, is in the Marion Correctional Institution for the March 1983 slayings of Edward Hanna, 34, formerly of Warren, and Fred Lemmens, 34, of Gahanna.
Ferrara was indicted by a Mahoning County grand jury Thursday in the Dec. 14, 1974, murders of Benjamin Marsh, 33; his wife, Marilyn, 32; and their 4-year-old daughter, Heather, at their 5540 S. Turner Road Home.
Their 1-year-old son, Christopher, was unharmed yet was found crawling in blood trying to awaken his mother. He was adopted by family members in the Cleveland area.
Ferrara is expected to be brought back to Youngstown to be arraigned in the Marsh killings. He was indicted on three counts of aggravated murder and single counts of aggravated robbery and aggravated burglary. He was linked to the crime in 2009 by fingerprints at the crime scene, and it took detectives with the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office several years to build up enough evidence to get an indictment.
Authorities have not released many details of the crime or a motive, although they did say Ferrara lived in the area at the time of the murders but was never a suspect until his prints were matched.
Ferrara was accused of killing Hanna and Lemmens in Worthington. Two other men with local ties also were accused of taking part in the crime, and they both received prison sentences: Joseph A. Weeks of Kinsman and Mark Jennings of Niles.
The three were caught by an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper about an hour after the slayings while on their way to Cleveland. Inside the car, police found about 2 pounds of cocaine, two .38-caliber revolvers and two 9 mm semiautomatic handguns.
One headline in a Columbus newspaper at the time said Ferrara had “bloody hands” when they were stopped by police. In notes he wrote for a parole board hearing in 2009, Ferrara complained he was a last-minute replacement in a plot by Weeks to rob the two men and did not know what was going to happen.
During Weeks’ trial in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, testimony showed that Weeks also was an FBI informant and that Weeks had passed on information that former Cleveland Brown Greg Pruitt was in debt to Hanna for $18,000 for cocaine.
Pruitt, who was interviewed by a newspaper in Los Angeles when his name came up because he was playing for the Los Angeles Raiders at the time, denied ever buying cocaine from Hanna. He said that he had tried cocaine a couple of times and had tried it with Hanna but had never purchased the drug from him.
“The best thing for me was coming here [Los Angeles] because it got me away from them,” Pruitt was quoted as saying.
Ferrara was tried by a panel of judges and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for his role in the slayings and has been denied parole three straight times — in 2006, 2009 and the beginning of this year. He is next eligible for parole in 2016.
Perry Township Police Chief Robert Oppenheimer investigated the Worthington slayings when he worked for that department. His present department is near Dublin, just outside of Columbus.
He said the other two men were afraid of Ferrara and that Ferrara immediately declined talking to investigators, saying he wanted a lawyer.
“He was very calm, kind of cold,” Oppenheimer said. “He didn’t show any signs of emotion.”
The court entry for Ferrara’s sentencing said a death sentence was not appropriate in part because even the victims were involved in criminal activity at the time of their death and “the crimes were the result of some degree of the defendant’s mental and emotional instability” and a lack of any prior criminal conduct or record by Ferrara.