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Owner apologizes for improper care

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Henry Harden and attorney John Potts, back, leave a meeting with Lucas County prosecutors. Mr. Harden promised to cooperate with prosecutors.

lisa dutton / blade Enlarge

The owner of a central Toledo funeral home where eight decomposed bodies were found last month said yesterday that he never meant to hurt any of the families whose loved ones were involved.

After a meeting yesterday with Lucas County prosecutors, Henry Harden apologized for not properly caring for the bodies found June 20 in the Sherrill Harden Funeral Home, 639 Indiana Ave. The funeral home is closed, and the funeral director licenses of Mr. Harden and his wife, Sandra R. Harden, have been suspended while an investigation into the discovery continues.

“This whole situation has had a tremendous impact on me and my family,” Mr. Harden said. “It was never my intention to harm anyone.”

At the meeting, Mr. Harden promised to comb his records for information that would help authorities put names to two of the eight bodies who have yet to be identified, according to John Weglian, chief of the special units division of the prosecutor's office.

Mr. Weglian said if Mr. Harden can produce the records by Aug. 4, the prosecutor's office will limit the number of criminal charges Mr. Harden will face. He would not say how many charges might be filed, but noted that the funeral home operator could be charged with abuse of a corpse and theft, both fifth-degree felonies which carry the potential for a one-year prison term.

Any charges filed against Mr. Harden will likely be filed through a bill of information rather than through grand jury indictments, Mr. Weglian said.

“I thought it was a very productive meeting and it was helpful to our investigation,” he said.

Mr. Harden said he's always tried to be helpful to families that have come to his funeral home, regardless of their ability to pay. He said “other stresses in my life” led to his recent problems.

“I'm really sorry,” he said as a tear rolled from his left eye.

J. Christopher Anderson, an assistant county prosecutor, said Mr. Harden was contrite during the meeting, but prosecutors still think he should face felony charges. He said abuse of a corpse can be charged as a misdemeanor if the treatment would outrage family members or a felony if the conduct would outrage the community.

“This is pretty outrageous behavior,” Mr. Anderson said. “I think the whole community is outraged by what he's done.”

Six of the eight bodies found at the funeral home last month were in a back building, while two were in an adjacent garage. Toledo police said at least one of the bodies had been “badly chewed” by rodents.

Mr. Weglian said it's likely that the six identified bodies were of people who had died this year. He said the two bodies in the garage may have been there for years.

The Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors suspended the licenses of the Hardens at a special meeting June 26 in Columbus.

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