Ferrara family murder case in hands of jury

Prosecutors offered no motive for the 3 slayings

By joe gorman



The attorney for a man accused of killing three members of a family in 1974 told jurors the evidence against 64-year-old James Ferrara is so nonexistent that they are being asked to take more than a leap of faith.

“It’s the Grand Canyon of leaps in regard to this trial,” defense attorney Tony Meranto said in his summation to jurors Wednesday.

Jurors will continue deliberating Ferrara’s fate today in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court. They deliberated about 45 minutes late Wednesday afternoon before leaving for the day.

Ferrara was indicted in June for killing 33-year-old Benjamin Marsh; his wife, Marilyn, 32; and their daughter, Heather, 4. The couple’s 1-year-old son, Christopher, was found crawling in his mother’s blood more than a day after the murders took place.

He faces life imprisonment if convicted.

Prosecutors said the family was killed Dec. 13, 1974, but their bodies were not discovered until the next day.

Ferrara, who is serving a prison sentence after being convicted of a double homicide in the Columbus area in 1983, was indicted after fingerprints found on the outside of a garage door at the crime scene were matched to him in 2009.

A jury was seated Monday before Judge R. Scott Krichbaum.

Prosecutors offered no motive during the trial for the murders.

Marsh worked in security at the General Motors Lordstown plant when he was killed, and Ferrara also worked in the van plant there at the time of the murders.

Meranto said other than the fingerprints, the state gave jurors no evidence Ferrara committed the murders or that he was even at the home.

“You have no why, you got no how, you got no who,” Meranto said.

Meranto said jurors have no way of knowing the reliability of evidence collected at the home by the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation because the agent who collected it is deceased and the Mahoning County Sheriff’s deputy who assisted, who testified at the trial, was inexperienced and did not know how evidence should be collected.

Dawn Cantalamessa, an assistant county prosecutor, acknowledged when she rebutted Meranto’s closing argument that they did not know why the Marshes were killed.

She also said that, legally, they do not have to give a motive to jurors.

“We don’t know why anybody would want to do this,” Cantalamessa said.

Cantalamessa said Ferrara’s prints are on the door that was used to break into a house where three people were killed. No one else’s prints were found in the home, even if it took 35 years to get a match.

“There’s only one person whose fingerprints are there: James Ferrara,” Cantalamessa said.

She added the deputy who assisted at the crime scene, Mike Finamore, did not collect the evidence and was assisting under orders from the detectives at the scene.

Before the summations, Pat Mondora, the detective for the sheriff’s office who reopened the case in 2009, testified when he and his partner, former Detective Dave Benigas, who has since retired, interviewed Ferrara and told him they found his fingerprints at the crime scene. Ferrara said there was no way that could happen.

“He said, ‘That’s impossible,’” Mondora testified.

Mondora said Ferrara was interviewed over the course of two days.

He was not told about his prints being found at the Marsh home until the second day.

He adamantly denied knowing Marsh or ever being at his house.

“He even asked us at one point, ‘Where is Canfield?’” Mondora testified.

Under cross-examination by Meranto, Mondora said he did not check out any of the 167 suspects that were compiled by investigators at the time because they were all cleared by the previous investigators.

He said none of their prints matched the prints found on the garage door that later came back to Ferrara.

Before Mondora testified, a deputy who works at the jail as a corrections officer, Devin Fitzpatrick, testified he had a conversation with Ferrara on Oct. 8 about firearms, and Ferrara told him he preferred to use a .38-caliber Detective Special revolver because it leaves behind no shell casings that can be collected for evidence.

Under cross-examination, however, Fitzpatrick said he did not give the report to Mondora until eight days after the conversation.

Crime-scene reports said bullets from a .38-caliber gun were used to kill Benjamin and Heather Marsh.

Also testifying for the defense was BCI DNA analyst Brenda Gerardi who tested a cigarette butt found at the crime scene for DNA.

She said she was given Ferrara’s DNA to compare any found on the cigarette.

Ferrara’s DNA was not on it.

She said there were DNA profiles for two other people on the cigarette, but none of them were Ferrara.

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