Saturday, September 13, 2003

Funeral home's owner convicted of corpse abuse

The Associated Press

TOLEDO - A tear streaming down his cheek, the owner of a funeral home where eight rotting bodies were found this summer pleaded no contest Friday to abusing a corpse and theft.

Henry Harden was convicted of the charges in Lucas County Common Pleas Court. The theft charge stemmed from an $1,100 payment to Harden for funeral services that were never provided.

Harden, 62, did not make any statements in court. His wife accompanied him to the hearing. Harden's attorney said the couple is relieved the investigation is over.

"They're not callous people. They're not people motivated by greed," said attorney John Potts.

Authorities found eight bodies at the Sherill-Harden Funeral Home in June. Six were in the home's preparation room while two were in an adjacent garage.

Some bodies had been gnawed by rodents and were left there for months. One still has not been identified.

Harden faces a maximum of nine years in prison. Judge James Jensen set sentencing for Oct. 10.

Harden has said he got into financial trouble because he would reduce rates or provide free services for poor people until he no longer could cover bills or pay for cremation services.

On at least one occasion, he gave a casket to a family that could not afford one, Potts said.

"Over the years, he has done a lot of good for the community," Potts said.

"We hope that is taken into consideration."

Anderson would not say whether his office will recommend prison time for Harden.

As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors agreed not to charge Harden's wife, who was a part-owner of the funeral home, and not to bring any more charges against him.

Harden provided the names of six of the deceased. The seventh body was identified July 8. He has been unable to identify the last body and has told investigators he believes it was there before he took over the business.

The Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors suspended the licenses of the Hardens and the funeral home on June 26.

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