Judge hears arguments on fingerprint evidence
By Joe gorman
Attorneys for a man accused of murdering three members of a Canfield Township family in 1974 say fingerprint evidence linking James Ferrara to the crime should be thrown out because the person who collected the prints is dead and cannot be cross-examined by defense attorneys.
Assistant Prosecutor Rebecca Doherty, however, argued before Judge R. Scott Krichbaum in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on Monday that the person who collected the print is not needed because others at the crime scene could testify that they saw the evidence collected.
Also, she said it was fingerprint analysts for the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation, not the person who collected the print at the crime scene, who matched the prints in 2009 with the 64-year-old Ferrara.
Ferrara is serving a prison sentence for a double homicide in 1983 in the Columbus area.
Ferrara faces three counts of aggravated murder for the December 1974 slayings of Benjamin Marsh, his wife, Marilyn, and their 4-year-old daughter, Heather, inside their South Turner Road home. A 1-year-old son, Christopher, survived.
Anthony Meranto, a lawyer for Ferrara, wants the fingerprint evidence excluded because the technician for BCI who collected the fingerprints from the crime scene in 1974 is dead and cannot be cross-examined.
Doherty argued the motion from a chain of custody issue, saying that there are several witnesses who are still alive who can testify that they were present when the prints were taken, and it is documented where the prints were kept over the years. Doherty also said the person who was able to match them to Ferrara can also testify.
She said there has been several cases where evidence has been allowed without the person who collected it having to testify.
However, Meranto said that fingerprint evidence is scientific evidence and he needs to be able to cross- examine the person who collected the prints to see if they are qualified and what methods they took to collect and store the print.
“You’re talking about a different kind of evidence,” Meranto said.
Doherty, however, said that evidence is evidence, no matter what type it is.
“It’s exactly like any other item,” Doherty said.
Doherty also said it is up to a jury to determine what weight to give evidence, not whether or not it is admissible.
Judge Krichbaum said he thinks fingerprint evidence is different than other types of evidence because people have to be specially trained to collect it. “This isn’t just somebody just picking up a stick,” he said.
Judge Krichbaum gave Doherty until the end of Monday to submit examples of case law that back up her position. He will issue a ruling at a later date.
Ferrara’s trial is set for Nov. 18.