Retired deputy testifies in cold case

By VIRGINIA SHANK

Tribune Chronicle

YOUNGSTOWN – A retired Mahoning County sheriff’s deputy who said he assisted as needed at the scene of a 1974 triple homicide in Canfield testified on Tuesday that he did not know where some of the evidence collected by a state agent ended up.

Mike Finamore told jurors he arrived at the home of 33-year-old Benjamin Marsh more than 30 hours after investigators said the General Motors security guard, his wife, Marilyn, 32, and their 4-year-old daughter, Heather, were killed Dec. 13, 1974. The couple’s 1-year-old son, Christopher, was the only survivor.

Finamore was among the witnesses to testify during the second day of the trial of 64-year-old James Ferrara, who is charged with murder in all three homicides.

Ferrara is already serving a life sentence in an unrelated 1983 double slaying.

The trial opened Monday with jury selection and opening arguments by prosecutors and defense attorneys in the courtroom of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court Judge R. Scott Krichbaum before going into testimony.

On Tuesday, Finamore explained how evidence, specifically fingerprints, is collected and stored. However, he said he did not personally collect any evidence from the Marsh home and that the evidence remained in the custody of the state agent called to the scene after the bodies were found.

Defense Attorney Tony Meranto raised questions about Finamore’s ability to process a crime scene at the time of the killings because of his lack of experience just a year and a half into his career. He asked Finamore why, when investigators from the sheriff’s department arrived at the house between 9 and 9:30 p.m. Dec. 14, they waited until 11 p.m. that day to process the crime scene.

Finamore explained that the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation had been called in to process the scene. The BCI agent who collected evidence at the scene is deceased, as are most of the investigators who handled the case.

Meranto asked Finamore if it’s possible some evidence was missed or overlooked because not every area of the Marsh house at 5540 S. Turner Road was processed.

Finamore responded yes.

Ferrara was indicted in June in the 1974 slayings after investigators took another look at the case, which had gone cold decades before, and found that some of the fingerprints collected at the Marsh home that were on file at BCI matched Ferrara’s.

However, on Monday defense attorneys pointed out that Ferrara was not even among the initial 160-plus suspects that the early investigation, which spanned 1974 to 1976, yielded.

Still, prosecutors contend that Ferrara went to the home to kill Benjamin Marsh, 33, on Dec. 13 and had either completed or was in the process of finishing that act when 32-year-old Marilyn returned home sometime between 11:30 a.m. and noon that day with their children after her dentist appointment.

Frank Boyle, who worked with Ferrara at the General Motors plant in Lordstown and lived near the Marsh residence, said he went to check on the family the evening of Dec. 14 after he received a call from work informing him that Benjamin Marsh had missed work that day – something highly unusual for him.

Ferrara had also worked at the General Motors plant. However, Boyle, who testified on Monday, said he did not know Ferrara.

Boyle said he arrived at the Marsh home just moments after Benjamin Marsh’s parents got there.

Prosecutors said when investigators questioned Ferrara after the fingerprint match was made, he said he had not known Benjamin Marsh or his family and had never been inside the Marsh home at 5540 S. Turner Road.

Benjamin Marsh was shot multiple times and suffered blows to his face that could be consistent with being hit by blunt object such as a gun, Mahoning County medical examiner Dr. Joseph Ohr said.

Ohr testified Tuesday as a substitute witness, meaning he was not the medical examiner who handled the Marsh case in 1974, but he reviewed the autopsy reports, photographs and other evidence and agreed with the ruling that Mahoning County Deputy Coroner Dr. Paul William Weiss made at the time of the three homicides.

Weiss, who died in 2009, ruled that Benjamin and Marilyn Marsh had been fatally shot and that Heather had been beaten to death.

The house was not ransacked, Marsh’s paycheck was still on the counter and money at the home at the time of the murders was not taken. Marilyn’s car was taken, but found later. Her husband’s truck was still in the garage when the bodies were discovered.

Court was scheduled to reconvene this morning.

Assistant Mahoning County Prosecutors Becky Doherty and Dawn Cantalamessa are representing the state. Along with Meranto, attorney Kristie Weibling is representing Ferrara.

vshank@tribtoday.com