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Published: Saturday, 10/18/2003

Owner sentenced to 60 days in jail


Denise Jones said losing her husband was hard enough. Finding out that his body was one of eight left decomposing at Henry Harden's central Toledo funeral home made her loss that much more painful.

Ms. Jones struggled to keep her composure yesterday as she spoke to Lucas County Common Pleas Judge James Jensen before he sentenced Harden to 60 days in jail for eight counts of abuse of corpse and one count of theft.

“When you are alone, that is when it hurts,” Ms. Jones told the judge. “I just don't know how someone could do this to the families.”

Ms. Jones' husband, Vernon, died in January. His body and seven others were found June 20 in various states of decomposition at the Sherrill Harden Funeral Home, 639 Indiana Ave.

Six died between Oct. 19 and April 4, and a seventh died in 1996. The eighth body, which was found in a mummified state in a cardboard cremation container in a garage, has not been identified.

Judge Jensen said no sentence he could impose would ease the pain for the families. He said Harden was not a bad man, which was evidenced by the help he gave to people over the years who could not afford to pay him. Nonetheless, Judge Jensen said Harden violated the law and caused a lot of pain.

“We expect those who pass away to be treated with dignity and respect,” Judge Jensen said.

In addition to the jail time, the judge sentenced Harden to three years of community control and 100 hours of community service.

Cordella McDonald said she and her family members felt betrayed by how Harden treated the body of her grandmother, Lelia Worden, who died in March.

“We put our trust and care in him during our time of need,” Ms. McDonald said.

Ms. McDonald and Ms. Jones said after the hearing that they were disappointed in Judge Jensen's sentence.

Harden dabbed tears from his eyes during the sentencing and asked family members who packed the courtroom to forgive him. In a previous interview with The Blade, Harden said he failed to take care of the bodies properly because of stress in his life. At the time, he was dealing with sick and dying family members, his attorney, John Potts, said.

“I would like to apologize to the families that I betrayed,” Harden said. “I apologize to them from the bottom of my heart for the pain and suffering I've caused.”

Since the bodies were discovered, Mr. Potts said Harden has cooperated with prosecutors and surrendered his license to operate a funeral home.

“Mr. Harden is not a callous man and he is deeply affected by this,” Mr. Potts said. “He understands it's all his fault.”

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