By joe gorman
James Ferrara spoke for the first time in court Friday as he was sentenced after being convicted for killing three members of the Marsh family in 1974.
But after Ferrara denied the crimes, Judge R. Scott Krichbaum said it was his words on two earlier occasions that convinced him that Ferrara was responsible for the Dec. 13, 1974, murders in Canfield Township.
Judge Krichbaum then sentenced him to three-straight life terms.
Killed were Benjamin Marsh, 33; his wife, Marilyn, 32; and daughter, Heather, 4, in their South Turner Road home. A 1-year-old son, Christopher, was found unharmed more than a day later crawling in his mother’s blood.
Ferrara, 64, who is also serving a sentence for a double homicide he was convicted of in 1983 in the Columbus area, denied being involved in the crime even though his fingerprints were found on the outside of a door that was used to break into the house.
Those prints were collected at the crime scene and matched to Ferrara in 2009.
“I understand where they’re coming from but you got the wrong guy,” Ferrara said. “I didn’t do that. There wasn’t enough evidence.”
The only evidence prosecutors presented during the trial was the fingerprints found on the door.
They did not give jurors, who convicted Ferrara Thursday after deliberating over parts of two days, a motive for the slayings.
Both Benjamin Marsh and Ferrara worked at the Lordstown General Motors assembly plant at the time of the murders.
Benjamin Marsh was shot four times and beaten. Marilyn Marsh was shot in the back of the head, and Heather Marsh was beaten to death, possibly with a gun.
A neighbor who found Heather and Marilyn Marsh, Frank Boyle, who also was best friends with Benjamin Marsh, said Ferrara was a coward.
“When he [Ferrara] goes back to prison, he’ll brag about all the people he killed, but I’ll bet he leaves out the part of beating a 4-year-old girl in the head and leaving her there to die,” Boyle said. “He’s not a big man. He’s a coward.”
Ferrara rebutted that when it was his turn to speak.
“I am not a coward. I will stand before you and admit to what I did wrong,” Ferrara said.
During the trial, Detective Pat Mondora of the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office testified that when he told Ferrara his prints were found at the home, Ferrara said it was impossible because he had never been there and didn’t know where Canfield was in 1974 because he lived somewhere else. He did not move to Mahoning County until 1976, he said.
“I’m not a liar. I’m not a thief,” Ferrara said. “I didn’t know Mr. Marsh. Although we worked at the same place, so did 15,000 other people.”
“I believe they [police] know the people who really did this. There’s more than one. How did I get there? I didn’t even know where it was.”
He called the trial “a waste of time and a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Judge Krichbaum said he was not sure of the evidence himself until he heard Mondora’s testimony and also testimony of a corrections officer at the county jail, who said Ferrara told him he preferred to use a .38-caliber Detective Special revolver because it does not leave behind shell casings.
Police said Benjamin and Marilyn Marsh were shot with .38-caliber bullets.
Judge Krichbaum also said Ferrara could not explain why his fingerprints were there.
“I can’t envision an act more vicious or vile or unconscionable,” Judge Krichbaum said. “These acts are inhuman. They’re to such an extent that they’re demonic. What you did is unforgivable.”
Tony Meranto, Ferrara’s lawyer, tried to cast doubt on the evidence collected during the trial because the person who processed the crime scene is deceased.
Prosecutors relied on a former deputy sheriff, Mike Finamore, who retired after 30 years in law enforcement with both the sheriff’s office and the Ohio State Highway Patrol as well, who watched as Bureau of Criminal Investigation agent Bernie Albert took the prints.
Meranto said Friday he thought jurors found Ferrara guilty “morally moreso than legally” and that he tried to give Ferrara the best defense he could.
Meranto said repeatedly that Finamore, who retired as an assistant superintendent of the patrol and now works for a security firm out of state, did not have experience at the time, but Finamore stressed that he did not collect the evidence, but watched and assisted, as he was instructed to do.
Meranto said the system works only when defendants get the best defense possible, because that assures the right people are convicted.
He said he is still unsure of the verdict although he added he understood how jurors voted the way they did after he saw pictures of Heather Marsh. He also added he respects the juror’s decision.
Karen Marsh, a niece of Benjamin Marsh’s and daughter of his brother William Marsh, also spoke before the sentence was handed down, saying that her family was robbed by the deaths.
She also said that though Benjamin and Marilyn Marsh’s death were horrific in themselves, killing Heather was especially cruel because the person had to have close contact with her to beat her to death.
“What monster can do something like that and look at themselves in the mirror?” she asked.
Ferrara was given the maximum sentence he could have been given in 1974.
He was not charged with death-penalty specifications because for a time after the murders had taken place the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional in Ohio.
The sentences also run consecutive to the sentence he is serving now, and should he be granted parole for those murders, the sentences in the Marsh case will then take effect.