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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2003

Funeral director convicted, will face sentencing Oct. 10 for corpse abuse, theft


Henry Harden pleaded no contest yesterday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court to eight counts of abuse of a corpse for leaving eight decomposing bodies at his central Toledo funeral home.

Harden, 62, also entered a no-contest plea to one count of theft for getting paid for the burial services for one of the deceased.

The bodies were found in various states of decomposition June 20 at the Sherrill Harden Funeral Home, 639 Indiana Ave., after state officials received a tip about unburied bodies there. Harden gave the names of six of the deceased to the Lucas County coroner to identify the bodies.

They had died between Oct. 19 and April 4. A seventh, who died in 1996, was identified July 8 by the coroner's office.

The eighth body, which was found in a mummified state in a cardboard cremation container in a garage, has not been identified.

Harden, who operated the funeral home since the early 1980s with his wife, Sandra, was charged last week in a bill of information. Prosecutors agreed to filing a bill of information rather than seek an indictment after Harden and his attorney, John Potts, cooperated with investigators in trying to put a name to the last corpse.

Harden combed his records and compared the names of burials at area cemeteries in an attempt to name the deceased, but the woman's identity remains a mystery.

Judge James Jensen found Harden guilty of the felony charges and scheduled sentencing for Oct. 10. Harden faces a one-year prison sentence and $2,500 fine for each of the nine convictions. The judge also could place the defendant on community control for up to five years.

“The Hardens are relieved that the investigation has been completed. They feel the prosecutor's office has treated them fairly,” Mr. Potts said.

Harden, who was joined in the courtroom by his wife and their daughter, declined to comment as deputies took him from the courtroom to the county jail to be processed. He was later released on his own recognizance.

J. Christopher Anderson, an assistant prosecutor, said Harden's actions in not burying bodies and leaving them to decompose outraged the sensibilities of the community. He said two families who believed their loved ones had been cremated were given the cremains of someone else.

Mr. Anderson said Harden was paid $1,135 by a nursing home for the funeral expenses of one of the deceased. The 81-year-old woman, who died in February, had no immediate survivors. The funeral home also failed to file death certificates for the deceased.

The funeral home has been closed since late June and the funeral director licenses of Harden and his wife were suspended by the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. At a hearing last month, the Hardens consented to the revocation of their licenses. A decision is expected to be made Sept. 26.

Mr. Anderson said he could not offer his opinion on a sentence for Harden. He said the families of the deceased will have the opportunity to express their feelings in victim impact statements that will be made available to the judge.

“I'm going to rely on what the victims want,” Mr. Anderson said.

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