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Fingerprint technology credited for cold case arrest

Shawn Marsh pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges in court yesterday. Shawn Marsh pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges in court yesterday. (Josh London/Pool)
By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / September 20, 2011

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MALDEN - Startled that he was caught stealing a large television, the suspect dropped it and fled through the back window of Room 74 at the Town Line Motor Inn. But this wasn’t just another robbery- a homicide had taken place in the room and it went unsolved for 28 years.

On Saturday, authorities made an arrest in the case, one of three decades-old cold cases in Middlesex County that have been cracked in the past year, this time through fingerprint analysis.

Shawn Marsh, 46, of Holyoke, was arraigned yesterday in Middlesex Superior Court on first-degree murder charges, stemming from the Aug. 22, 1983, fatal shooting of Rodney Wyman of Simsbury, Conn. Authorities say Marsh and another man, who has not been identified or apprehended, carried out the robbery and slaying.

Authorities laid out what they say were the events leading up to the killing.

Wyman, 29, and his roommate had traveled from Connecticut to Malden earlier that summer day to install windows at a construction site, according to court records. After work, they ate at a nearby restaurant and then settled in for the night in their room, watching television in the front bedroom. At 10:46 p.m., they heard a noise in the back bedroom and Wyman got up to check.

As he approached the door to the back bedroom, a gunman flung the door open and shot Wyman through the heart, according to the court records. The gunman then pointed the gun at the roommate. As Wyman staggered across the room and out the front door, authorities say Marsh threw the roommate against a wall and asked, “Where’s the money?’’ Marsh started kicking the roommate in the head and neck, authorities said.

Marsh grabbed the television, which had a tamper alarm. The alarm sounded at the front office of the motel, on Route 99. Two hotel employees rushed to the room and saw Marsh and the gunman flee, according to the court records.

Police retrieved several items the suspects dropped in their haste, and authorities also retrieved more than 20 fingerprints and handprints from the television and other surfaces in the room, according to the report. There were no matches to a fingerprint database in 1983.

After Marsh was recently arrested for an undisclosed crime, his fingerprints were entered into a nationwide database containing more than 100 million samples. Marsh’s prints matched those taken 28 years ago from Room 74.

During his arraignment in Woburn yesterday, Marsh emphatically pleaded “not guilty.’’ He was ordered held without bail pending an Oct. 18 pretrial conference. A man who identified himself as Marsh’s uncle said before the arraignment that his nephew is being framed and that he had nothing to do with the crime. The uncle declined to comment further.

While technological advancements have proven to be great tools in crime fighting, Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. made solving cold cases a top priority when he took office in 2007, authorities said.

“He put a new focus on these cases,’’ said Cara’ O’Brien, spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney’s office.

Last year, Manson Brown, 51, of Mattapan, who was serving a prison sentence at Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater for a home invasion, was connected through DNA to an unsolved rape in Cambridge in 1996.

A 41-year-old homicide case was cracked in April, as the family of 15-year-old victim John J. McCabe of Tewksbury worked tirelessly with authorities to seek justice. Three men, Walter Shelley, 60, of Tewksbury, Edward Alan Brown, 59, of Londonderry, N.H., and Michael Ferreira, 57, of Salem, N.H., have been charged in connection with that slaying in Lowell.

Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.