Marsh entered his plea before Judge James Bodiford in Walker County Superior Court in a small courtroom in the Courthouse Annex in LaFayette.
Are you, in fact, guilty?" Judge Bodiford asked.
"Yes, sir," Marsh replied.
Marsh, 31, said he understood by pleading guilty, he could be sentenced to up to 80,000 years in jail and fined millions of dollars. He said he had never been under any psychiatric or pyschological care.
"Whether it's right or wrong," Bodiford said, "those rulings will stand forever."
About 40-50 members of victims' families gathered in the courtroom. After Marsh and his lead attorney, McCracken "Ken" Poston of Ringgold, entered the room, the sound of camera shutters and whispers shattered the sile as the crowd waited for Judge Bodiford to arrive.
Bodiford said he had written a nine-page order on whether to disqualify the district attorney and his office from prosecuting the case. Bodiford said he was ready to file the order, but the defense's action to dismiss its motions made that ruling null.
Marsh’s wife, Venessa, and mother, Clara, did not attend the hearing.
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Judge Bodiford asked Marsh 29 questions to ensure the defendant understood his rights and agreed to waive his rights to a jury trial
Marsh agreed to plead guilty to the four categories of the crimes.
Marsh is accused of stashing 334 bodies throughout his family-owned property in Walker County and passing off cement dust and rocks as the ashes of the deceased.
In February 2002 hundreds of decomposing corpses were found stacked in storage sheds and scattered in woods outside the crematory in Noble, a community in central Walker County. Local, state and federal crews continued the search for bodies for several months on the crematory grounds, which includes a large lake.
Prosecutors said he stopped performing cremations at the crematory in 1997, when he took over the family business from his father.
If Marsh’s case had gone to trial and he had been convicted on all the charges, he could have been sentenced to more than 8,000 years in prison.
A sentencing hearing is expected to be scheduled for Monday, Jan. 31, at 8:30 a.m. in the Walker County Courthouse on South Duke Street in LaFayette.
The sentence, which would cover all 787 charges, will be followed by a lengthy probation period, likely the rest of his life, officials say.
Marsh is expected to be sentenced to 12 years in prison, meaning he would be eligible for parole in about 4¼ years. Officials say he will be given credit for time already served, about seven months.
Marsh has spoken little about the case. He has not said why he did not cremate the bodies. Speculations on motive have ranged from financial problems to disinterest in the business, which he took over from his father.
Marsh, a linebacker on the football team at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, left school early in the mid-1990s to help run his ailing father’s crematory. He later took over the family business, something relatives say was not his first choice.
Defense attorney McCracken “Ken Poston of Ringgold had asked Judge Bodiford to throw out the theft charges, arguing that the corpses did not constitute property. The judge refused, prompting defense lawyers to appeal to the state Supreme Court. Marsh’s guilty plea today nullifies that appeal.
Marsh also is charged in Tennessee with six felony counts of abuse of a corpse. Tennessee prosecutors have said Marsh is expected to plead guilty to the Bradley County, Tenn., charges by the end of the year. As part of his agreement in Georgia, the two prison sentences will run concurrently.
Marsh and dozens of funeral homes that sent bodies to the crematory already have settled a civil lawsuit for $80 million.
Staff writers Eric Beavers, Catherine Edgemon, Andy Diffenderfer and Katie Ward contributed to this article.