This guy nearly got sentenced to 8,000 years in prison even though he never committed a violent crime
No matter how you look at it, the justice system in the USA is incredibly flawed. All too often we hear cases in which violent and dangerous offenders get away with relatively light sentences (take Brock Turner, for example, who only served three months after being reportedly found guilty of three felony counts of sexual assault, according to Time), while first-time offenders for non-violent crimes end up getting slapped with decade-long terms behind bars.
What's more, some crimes are so strange and uncommon that there is no real legislation in place to dictate exactly how much jail time they should warrant. When that happens, it's pretty much up to an individual judge to decide how severe the offense is, and what punishment it deserves.
This is exactly what happened in one case 16 years ago, when more than three hundred bodies were discovered to have been dumped on one site. The man responsible was named as 28-year-old Ray Brent Marsh, and he almost got slapped with an 8,000 year sentence.
However, there is far more to the case than the basic facts suggest - which is why, perhaps controversially, Marsh is now walking around today as a free man.
Marsh's crimes were discovered in February 2002, when a woman walking her dog came across a skull on a seemingly-empty plot of land. Police were called to investigate, and quickly discovered that there was not just one body part buried in the area, but thousands. Some were entire corpses - fresh enough that they could be readily identified - while others were fragments that had become mummified or rotten away to the point where it was unclear which bones belonged with which.
The gravesite was very quickly tied to Marsh, who was undeniably culpable for all the bodies having been dumped there. However, Marsh did not kill any of the people. In fact, he didn't commit any violent crimes towards them at all... because they were already dead when they came to him.
The 28-year-old was the manager of the Tri-State Crematory in Georgia, and had been employed to incinerate the bodies and provide the families of relatives with the cremated remains. Instead, however, Marsh had been pocketing the cash, disposing of the bodies in a cheaper way (i.e. by abandoning them in an unmarked mass grave), and furnishing relatives with fake ashes made from concrete dust and other materials.
Unsurprisingly, something like this had never happened before, and - as the desecration of a body wasn't a felony in Georgia at the time - nobody was really sure what to charge the man with.
Eventually, Marsh was arrested on more than 300 criminal violations, and was eventually charged with 787 counts of criminal activity. This included theft by deception, abusing a corpse, burial service related fraud and giving false statements - all of which combined could have landed him more than 8,000 years behind bars.
However, a plea bargain was made on the Crematorium Manager's behalf, and he only ended up serving a mere 12 years for his crimes.
Now, considering that Marsh's criminal antics were financially motivated, and did not involve anything of a violent nature, many people believed that a dozen years behind bars was a suitable punishment for the crime.
However, others were not so convinced.
Almost 1,700 members of the families of the identified corpses sued Tri-State and the funeral homes that had shipped the bodies to the crematorium, and were granted nearly $40 million in compensation.
"As the daughter of someone who wound up there, 12 years is not enough," wrote Tiffany Daniel Duffy in a response to a Facebook post from a local news outlet. "When we found out what had happened, it was like she'd died all over again. Those of you who say 12 years is enough, and that he did his time: I have no idea where my mother wound up. Is 12 years really enough time? Had it happened to you, you'd think what we're all thinking."
As one of the conditions of his reduced sentence, Marsh was forced to promise never to profit from his crimes, meaning that he is essentially bound by law to never speak of them. As a result, we probably won't ever find out more about why he decided to do the things he did - but some have suggested that the toxic fumes he had been inhaling for years from other cremated bodies may have affected his better judgment.
Either way, the man was lucky to have gotten away with such a light sentence, not just because it could have originally been closer to a good few centuries, but - more importantly - because he hurt so many innocent families in the process of committing his crimes.
More than 100 of the bodies are still unidentified to this day, and it is likely that they will remain that way forever.