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Shawnte Hardin trial begins in Ohio

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Shawnte Hardin faces more than 30 criminal charges, including impersonating a funeral director.

TOLEDO, Ohio — The trial of Shawnte Hardin, the man charged with running an unlicensed funeral business and abusing bodies, began on Monday.

His fate, however, won’t be in the hands of a jury. Instead, Hardin waived that right and chose to have his guilt or innocence determined by Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Michael Goulding.

Hardin’s alleged crimes, the prosecution told the judge, involve a criminal enterprise where he promised specific funeral services and didn’t deliver. The state argued Hardin performed funeral services only a licensed funeral director can perform. Hardin has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The state said Hardin’s crimes happened in several Ohio counties including Franklin, Lucas, Cuyahoga and Summit counties.

The state says he didn’t file income tax until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Among those who took the stand was Carol King of Columbus. Her sister, Rhoda Cooper died, and her funeral was handled by Hardin.

King said she’d known Hardin since they were in kindergarten and had been to several of his funerals.

She testified that she trusted Hardin and was happy with her sister’s funeral. But that all changed when police called her in September 2021 telling her they found her sister in an East Livingston Avenue storefront a month after her funeral.

King testified she wanted her sister cremated. 

“He said he was a funeral director and that he could handle everything from start to finish,” she testified.

King testified she called Hardin asking where her sister’s ashes were, she said Hardin told her, “That he had some issues with COVID, that she had been cremated and we can meet up and get her remains,” she said.

Hardin’s attorney told the judge the remains were in the storefront because Hardin couldn’t cremate without a death certificate and claimed the wrong doctor signed the paperwork, and he was waiting for the corrected document.

Another witness, Danny Hall, said he was called to pick up one of Hardin’s bodies.

Hall testified he drove from Mansfield to Toledo to drop off a body. He said the request came from a “Shawn Sheffield.” When asked to identify the person in court he pointed to Shawnte Hardin.

Hall testified the body was in a white body bag and was delivered to a building that looked like it could be a church storage area off Airport Road in Toledo. He testified, “It was very unusual.”

The prosecutor said another Hardin body was delivered to a cemetery where “the state of the body was such, so decomposed that the stench of death was so bad that the worker at the cemetery got violently ill, ” said Brad Tamarro, Ohio Assistant Attorney General.

The list of charges against Hardin include: 

  • One count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a first-degree felony.
  • Three counts of tampering with records, third-degree felonies.
  • One count of theft, a fourth-degree felony.
  • Eight counts of abuse of a corpse, all fifth-degree felonies.
  • Five counts of failure to file taxes, all fifth-degree felonies.
  • Five counts of passing bad checks, all fifth-degree felonies.
  • Two counts of identity fraud, both fifth-degree felonies.
  • Two counts of telecommunications fraud, both fifth-degree felonies.
  • Six counts of representation as a funeral director while unlicensed, two unclassified felonies and four unclassified misdemeanors.
  • Single counts of fifth-degree felony criminal tools and unauthorized use of a vehicle.
  • One count of operating an unlicensed funeral home, an unclassified felony.
  • One count of failure to refrigerate a human body, an unclassified misdemeanor.

The Lucas County coroner plans to take the stand Tuesday. 

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