By joe gorman
Who collected fingerprints at the scene of a 1974 triple homicide in Canfield Township took center stage Tuesday in the case of the man indicted in June for the Marsh family murders.
Prosecutors called to testify Mike Finamore, a former Mahoning County deputy sheriff, who was present the evening of Dec. 14, 1974, shortly after the bodies of Benjamin Marsh, 33; his wife, Marilyn, 32; and their daughter, Heather, 4, were found inside their South Turner Road home in Canfield Township.
Surviving the attack was the couple’s 1-year-old son, Christopher, who was discovered crawling in his mother’s blood.
Prosecutors estimate the three were killed Dec. 13, 1974, and have charged 64-year-old James Ferrara with the crime after a set of fingerprints found at the crime scene matched his.
The case is being heard by Judge R. Scott Krichbaum.
A jury was seated Monday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
Also called was Robin Ladd, a fingerprint analyst for the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation who found the prints in the Marsh file, ran them through a computer system and matched them to Ferrara, who is serving a sentence for a double homicide he was convicted of in the Columbus area in 1983.
The three prints — from the left little finger, left middle finger and left ring finger — were found on a garage door where investigators believe someone broke in to get inside the home.
The man who collected the prints at the crime scene, BCI agent Bernie Albert, is deceased, and so are the lead investigators on the case.
Finamore, who has retired from the sheriff’s department and runs a security company in North Carolina, is one of the few deputies who responded to the scene who is still alive.
Finamore said he had been a deputy for a year and a half at the time of the murders and learned how to collect evidence, including fingerprints, during his time at the Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy.
He explained to jurors how fingerprints are collected and said he called a supervisor the evening of the murders and asked if any help was needed.
He was directed to the crime scene, where he arrived about 9:30 p.m. and surveyed it, along with investigators as they waited for Albert to arrive, which was about 11 p.m.
Finamore said the investigators at the scene, including lead detective and future Sheriff Ed Nemeth, told him he was to help Albert.
He never collected any evidence but was there and described for jurors how Albert collected and stored the evidence.
Atty. Tony Meranto, representing Ferrara, asked Finamore if he or any of the other deputies present could have processed the scene instead of waiting for BCI.
When Finamore said they could have, he asked why they did not.
Finamore said they did not because the command staff at the crime scene decided to have BCI process it.
Meranto asked how much training Finamore had received at OPOTA on removing fingerprints and he said it was part of a standard class.
Thereafter, whenever he could, Meranto would preface questions by saying Finamore “had a couple of hours training at OPOTA” or that Finamore had spent “a year and a half on the sheriff’s department.”
“Why didn’t you do it?” Meranto asked.
“Because the decision was made to have BCI do it,” Finamore said.
In some ways, having BCI process the scene made things easier because it shortened the chain of evidence, because anything collected by deputies would have to be submitted to BCI anyway, Finamore said.
But he also said the decision was made because of the magnitude of the crime.
“I think it was an extensive crime scene for all of us. The magnitude,” Finamore said. “You don’t find three dead bodies every day.”
Ladd testified that when she received confirmation through the computer that the prints she submitted matched Ferrara’s, she then manually checked them herself to verify them and had a colleague also check them, and the colleague confirmed the match as well.
She said the prints were in good shape.
“They were very good quality prints,” Ladd said.
She did concede under cross-examination that she never spoke to the person who took the prints and has no personal experience of how they came to be stored in an evidence room at the BCI facility in London, Ohio.
Meranto had asked Judge Krichbaum before the trial to have the fingerprint evidence excluded because Albert is deceased and cannot be cross-examined.
Under the U.S. Constitution, Ferrara has a right to cross-examine every witness against him.
Judge Krichbaum, however, overruled the motion, saying that Meranto could attack the fingerprint evidence in other ways, and he did.
Meranto asked why certain spots in the house were dusted for prints and others weren’t and he also asked Finamore if he knew how long Albert worked before he came to the crime scene, where he lived and what he did with the evidence.