Cold case trial begins
YOUNGSTOWN – One of the first people to arrive at the Canfield home of Benjamin and Marilyn Marsh in December 1974 after the couple had been killed told jurors on Monday that he could see some movement through a window of the darkened house.
Frank Boyle said it was later, after he and Benjamin Marsh’s father had removed a locked screen door to to enter, that he realized it was the couple’s 1-year-old son, Christopher – the only member of the family to survive the brutal attack.
Boyle was one of two initial witnesses called to testify on the opening day of the murder trial of 64-year-old James Ferrara. Ferrara, who is already serving a life sentence in a 1983 double slaying, is charged with killing the couple and their 4-year-old daughter, Heather, in December 1974.
Boyle testified that Christopher was covered in his mother’s blood, much of which was dried when the bodies were found the next evening, calling for the snowsuit he was wearing to be cut off him.
Benjamin Marsh’s older brother William, who also took the stand, said Christopher was raised by a family member and had suffered a concussion. Otherwise, he was unharmed physically.
The first day of the trial started 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.
Prosecutors said jurors can expect to hear from other witnesses including investigators. However, they noted, many of the initial investigators on the case close to 40 years ago have died.
Benjamin Marsh, Boyle and Ferrara had all worked at the General Motors plant in Lordstown. Marsh and Ferrara had worked together in security at the plant. However, Boyle testified that although he and Marsh were also friends and neighbors, he had not known Ferrara.
Ferrara was indicted in June in the 1974 slayings after investigators took another look at the case, which had gone cold decades before. Investigators found that some of the fingerprints collected at the crime scene that were on file at the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation matched Ferrara’s.
However, Defense Attorney Kristie Weibling pointed out in her opening statements that Ferrara was not even among the initial 160-plus suspects that the early investigation, which spanned 1974 to 1976, yielded.
“He was never mentioned in that list of suspects, he was never mentioned in the detectives notes from the investigation,” she said, noting his name was never brought up in any early meetings about the case.
She said a key piece of evidence, a cigarette found inside the house believed to have been left by someone involved in the killings, has not been linked to Ferrara because the DNA found on it does not match her client’s and a match to the partial fingerprint on it has never been made.
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. Boyle 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.
“We don’t know if Marilyn knew someone else was in the house with her and the kids,” remarked assistant Mahoning County Prosecutor Becky Doherty, noting the slain woman and her children were still wearing their winter coats when the mother and daughter were killed.
Benjamin Marsh was shot four times, his wife was shot once in the back of the head, and his daughter was beaten. Prosecutors said the girl’s injuries were consistent with someone who had been struck with a gun.
Prosecutors have yet to state publicly what they believe possibly motivated the slayings. They 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 to the Marsh home at 5540 S. Turner Road.
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.
Ferrara is also being represented by attorney Tony Meranto. Assistant Mahoning County Prosecutor Dawn Cantalamessa is also representing the state.