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Sheriff warns of possible threats to crematory operator

Ray Brent Marsh  

LAFAYETTE, Georgia (CNN) -- The sheriff of the northwest Georgia county where authorities have found hundreds of discarded bodies said officials have received numerous death threats against the crematory operator accused of dumping the corpses on his property.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson testified in a bond hearing Friday that he would be concerned for crematory operator Ray Brent Marsh's safety if he were released.

"I have never seen the community so outraged about one incident," Walker testified. He said he had personally heard threats against Marsh.

Chief Magistrate William J. Day said Friday he would rule on Marsh's bond request in a few days.

Marsh, 28, is charged with 16 felony counts of theft by deception for allegedly dumping bodies instead of cremating them. The counts are for the number of bodies identified when the charges were filed.

Recovering bodies at a crematorium in Georgia is having a profound effect on investigators. (February 21)

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Wilson said investigators had now identified 56 sets of remains. He said 289 bodies had been recovered.

Friday's hearing was Marsh's first court appearance. He was wearing a bulletproof vest and was handcuffed to the defense table as the hearing started.

Before the hearing, Marsh's attorney Ken Poston told reporters, "Mr. Marsh embraces his constitutional pretrial presumption of innocence." He said he could not comment further because of the gag order that was issued Thursday.

Later Friday, a delegation that was to include Georgia's U.S. Sens. Max Cleland and Zell Miller, Rep. Nathan Deal, whose district includes Walker County, and GEMA Director Gary McConnell was to take a helicopter tour of the area to assess the potential environmental damage caused by the discarded bodies.

Georgia officials want federal disaster aid to help pay for the search and cleanup of the site.

Authorities have said the search will be extremely labor-intensive and could last for at least eight months. The search has already cost millions of dollars.

They still plan to drain a lake on the property where search teams found a human head and torso.

Investigators said that tests of cremated remains brought in by loved ones revealed that many are actually concrete or cement powder, not ashes of bodies.

-- CNN Correspondent Art Harris contributed to this report.




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