Plea: Not guilty

YOUNGSTOWN – The man accused in a 39-year-old triple murder in Canfield pleaded not guilty Tuesday morning in a Mahoning County Courtroom to a five-count indictment.

Wearing thick, black horn-rimmed glasses and at times chuckling with a fellow inmate in the jury box, James Ferrara, 64, learned that he will remain in Mahoning County Jail while he faces three counts of aggravated murder, one count of aggravated burglary and one count of robbery.

Ferrara was returned here last month from Marion Correctional Institution, where he is serving a life sentence for convictions on two 1983 drug-related murders in Columbus.

When asked if he still had an attorney from his last case, Ferrara pompously blurted out to Magistrate Eugene Fehr, ”That was 30 years ago.” Fehr appointed attorney Anthony Meranto to represent the defendant.

Fehr set no bond for Ferrara, leaving that up to Judge R. Scott Krichbaum. A pre-trial was scheduled for Tuesday with a tentative trial date of Aug. 5.

The charges against the former Youngstown man stem from a 1974 triple murder of Benjamin Marsh, his wife, Marilyn Marsh, and their 4-year-old daughter, Heather, in their South Turner Road home. The couple’s then-1-year-old son, Christopher, was found at the time bloodied and milling about the dead bodies.

Mahoning sheriff’s deputies at the time said the house was entered through a garage window. Missing from the home were Marilyn Marsh’s purse and a family car, which was later found in a parking lot in Austintown.

Officials said the big break came when the detectives from the Sheriff’s Office entered fingerprints from the cold case into the “AFIS” fingerprint identification system, which is a fingerprint database, in 2009 and received a hit on Ferrara. One fingerprint investigators were able to pull from the crime scene was reportedly taken off of a cigarette butt.

Assistant county prosecutor Rebecca Doherty declined comment, including difficulties in presenting a case that is nearly 40 years old. She did describe the case as ”science-based,” with much of the testimony coming in the form of explanations from forensic police experts.

Detective Pat Mondora and Detective Dave Benigas, who retired in 2011, did the majority of the legwork on the case. Benigas said earlier the decades-old cold case was difficult to investigate because departments and organizations often purge records on cases going back that far.

According to reports, Ben Marsh and Ferrara worked at the General Motors Corp. Complex in Lordstown at the time of the crime, which is one of the places investigators focused over the last several years.