updated 3/11/2004 4:31:55 PM ET 2004-03-11T21:31:55

The families of more than 300 people whose bodies were found strewn across the grounds of a Georgia crematory will receive nearly $40 million in a settlement announced Thursday with the business and 58 funeral homes across the South.

The funeral homes agreed to pay $36 million and the insurer for Tri-State Crematory $3.5 million. The Marsh family, which operates the crematory, also agreed to preserve two acres as a tribute to the dead.

Robert Darroch, an attorney for the families of the dead, said of the settlement: “Hopefully this gives them a chance to get past this and heal.”

The families brought a federal class-action lawsuit in 2002 after crematory operator Ray Brent Marsh was arrested and accused of dumping 334 bodies instead of cremating them. Investigators say he gave families cement dust instead of their loved ones’ ashes.

The funeral homes in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama had sent the bodies to the crematory between 1988 and 2002.

Letha Shropshire of Lafayette, Ga., whose mother’s body was found on the property, said the lawsuit was not about money. “It’s just holding the Marsh family and the funeral homes accountable,” she said.

Marsh still faces 787 state felony charges.

The settlement came near the end of a trial in the lawsuit. Elizabeth Smith, a juror on the case, said she would have “most definitely” ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor if a settlement had not been reached.

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