TOLEDO, Ohio — On Friday afternoon, an unrepentant Shawnte Hardin was convicted of 31 counts related to operating as an unlicensed funeral director in Lucas County.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Goulding methodically worked his way through the 44 charges against Hardin. Six of those counts were dismissed before Friday, while Judge Goulding ruled not guilty in seven others.
But Hardin was convicted of the most serious charge - engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, which is a first-degree felony. The judge said it was clear that Hardin operated his funeral business without a proper license.
Over three weeks of testimony, more than 50 witnesses said Hardin deceived them into believing that he was a funeral director who could offer affordable funerals for loved ones. Instead, they said that cremated remains were not returned, some bodies were not cremated, and death certificates were not produced in a timely manner. In one case, a witness claimed that Hardin, a Baptist preacher, told him that he had converted to Islam.
The weight of that testimony was enough to convince Judge Goulding of Hardin's guilt, including multiple counts of gross abuse of a corpse.
Outside the courtroom, Hardin continued to deny the charges.
"I still maintain my innocence. I believe that maybe there could have been some other things that could have been brought forward that were not," he said. "However, I am where I am right now and so I'm gonna move forward with my life, right up to the sentencing date, and I'll go forward from there.
That sentencing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 26.
During eight hours of testimony over two days, Hardin took the stand to say he had good intentions and his goal was to help provide affordable funeral services to low-income families. But he repeatedly claimed that many of the witnesses arrayed against him were lying.
As Judge Goulding announced his decisions, there was little reaction from Hardin, who was dressed in a dark suit, blue tie, and gray vest. At times he may have appeared a little puzzled or anxious, but offered no obvious emotions.
Despite the days of testimony against him, he still expressed surprise after the hearing.
“I’m surprised by some of the verdicts of the judge, if not most of them. All I’d say is that I did my best to prove my innocence in this case, but the judge said otherwise and it’s time to move on.”
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