OH v. HARDIN: Phony Funeral Home Trial

Posted at 9:21 AM, July 11, 2022 and last updated 4:07 PM, September 21, 2022

TOLEDO, Ohio (Court TV) — An Ohio man who specialized in the dead now faces the biggest trial yet against him, years after accusations he was faking his funeral credentials and filching funds.

Shawnte Davon Hardin operated in several counties, under several business names, offering services ranging from pastoral, to mortuary support, to transportation of the deceased.

 

He attracted grieving families with his competitively low prices. However, it’s his alleged advertisement to families as a funeral professional that prompted investigations by the state board, local police and the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

Hardin faces two merged cases in a Lucas County, Ohio courtroom. The most recent case, a 7-count indictment in December 2021, includes charges related to the handling of Lenise Lee and Charles Weatherspoon’s bodies. Prosecutors allege Hardin misrepresented himself as able to do funeral directing services and recklessly handled Weatherspoon’s corpse.

The December 2021 indictment also lists three counts related to Asia Luckey, accusing Hardin of intimidating her, illegally taking out a rental car in her name, and racking up a $4,900 bill.

Two months earlier in October, a Lucas County grand jury indicted Hardin on 37 counts—among those eight counts of abuse of a corpse, five counts of writing bad checks, five counts of failure to file taxes, and one failure to refrigerate a human body.

While the cases were pending against Hardin, an “urban explorer” made a shocking discovery in Akron connected to the defendant. Cremated remains belonging to nearly 90 people from the Greater Faith Missionary Baptist Church were found in plastic bags and boxes. Hardin was operating the abandoned church at the time, and claimed the remains were inherited from a now-deceased funeral director. Hardin’s trial in Lucas County does not include charges from Summit County (Akron).

After his December 2001 indictment, state troopers pulled over Hardin’s SUV and placed him under arrest. His bond was reportedly set at $250,000, with conditions of GPS monitoring upon release.

Shawnte Hardin has opted for a bench trial, which means a judge will decide if he is guilty of the crimes charged.

Court TV field producer Tiffany Smith contributed to this report.

DAILY TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS

DAY 12 – 8/5/22

DAY 11 – 7/28/22

DAY 10 – 7/27/22

DAY 9 – 7/26/22

  • Shawnte Hardin took the stand on Day 1 of the defense’s case-in-chief.
  • Hardin testified that he never told anyone he was a licensed funeral director and denied abusing a corpse and all the charges against him.
  • According to Hardin, he would refer to himself as a “funeral guide,” not a funeral director. He told the court how he started working in a funeral home at 12 and briefly studied at a mortuary science school in Pittsburgh, PA. Hardin was asked to unenroll from the school without finishing.
  • After leaving mortuary school, he worked for funeral homes in Columbus and Akron, OH. His primary role was to help with the transportation of the deceased and their family members. There were times he would prep the bodies for funeral services – clothing them and ensuring their hair and makeup were presentable to the families.
  • Shawnte Hardin has been the senior pastor at the Greater Missionary Baptist Church since 2007. He said that as a pastor, he encountered many of his congregation and families seeking low-cost funeral services. He would refer them to inexpensive funeral service providers.
  • We also learned that Hardin had trouble past when he was younger. He served 80 days in prison for unauthorized vehicle use when he was 20. Also, some years later, he rented a home to renters who smoked marijuana. Hardin was held responsible for the tenants and their illegal drug use.

Shawnte Hardin (via WEWS)

DAY 8 – 7/20/22 

DAY 7 – 7/19/22 

  • STATE WITNESS # 47 ARVIN CLAR, OHIO BUREAU OF CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS (BCI) SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS
  • STATE WITNESS # 48 TROY SEEHASE, INSPECTOR, OBEFD (OHIO BOARD OF EMBALMERS AND FUNERAL DIRECTORS

DAY 6 – 7/18/22

  • The first state witness was Facebook friend’s with Hardin. Her former best friend’s mom died, and she accompanied Hardin while he transported her body in a body bag and cardboard box and cremated her remains at the funeral home.
  • Other cemetery directors and case analysts testify and introduce Hardin’s tax records, burial permits and death certificates saved on Hardin’s computer that were only partially filled out with multiple descendant’s names missing

DAY 5 – 7/15/22

DAY 4 – 7/14/22

DAY 3 – 7/13/22

DAY 2 – 7/12/22

DAY 1 – 7/11/22

  • Prosecution opening statement: Assistant Attorney General Brad Tammaro says Hardin did not offer respect or dignity to the people he was entrusted with overseeing their funerals. Hardin allegedly mistreated their bodies.
  • Defense opening statement: Hardin’s attorney argued that the defendant tried to help low-income families have a proper funeral at a low cost. And he did not commit any crimes or misrepresent himself as a funeral director.
  • State Witness #1 – Officer Anthony Johnson, Columbus Division of Police
    • Responding officer to E. Livington Avenue, Columbus, OH
    • Report of men removing items out of a storefront – former Beauty and Nail Salon
    • Windows to the business were covered with black plastic bags and paper
    • Body on a gurney and body in a cardboard box inside the business
  • State Witness #2 – Officer Walt Titus, Columbus Division of Police (Homicide Unit)
    • Contacted family members for the bodies located in the business in Columbus, OH – September 2021
    • Rhonda Renee Cooper, 58, died of a heart attack in August 2021
    • Riefel Posnick died in a car accident in Colorado Springs, CO
    • Both bodies were stored in the Columbus, OH location until a passerby contacted the police of two men removing items out of the location
  • State Witness #3 – Marvin Johnson, Johnson Mortuary Transport
    • Met the defendant in 2016 after delivering a body to Hardin
    • Hardin was wearing an apron with bodily fluids as if he was working on the body
    • Paid him cash and didn’t ask for a receipt or asked for an invoice
    • Ask by the State Board to observe and report what he saw at the location
  • State Witness #4 – Carol King, Sister of Rhonda Cooper (Decedent)
    • Sister Rhonda Renee Cooper, 58, died of a heart attack
    • Contacted Hardin to discuss funeral arrangements
    • Paid Hardin $2000 for an obituary and coffin rental for the funeral service
    • Hardin told her that her sister’s body had been cremated
    • Cooper had not been cremated due to a discrepancy to death certificate
  • State Witness #5 – Danny Hall, Employee Buckeye Vault and Burial Services (Former)
    • Delivered a body to a strip mall where Hardin’s church “The Rock” was located
    • Body of James Pettaway was placed on a table in a room full of discarded items – stacked chairs
    • The process was unorthodox and not legal
    • Contacted the coroner’s office about this observations
  • State Witness #6 – Detective Deborah Hahn, Toledo Police Department (Former)
    • Responded to The Rock Church regarding concerns about a business
    • Spoke to Dionne Fortress with the coroner’s office regarding Hall’s observations
    • Body in a white bag on a table
    • Temperature was 50 degrees inside the building – not much warmer as it was outside the building
    • Stacked chairs and toys near the body
    • Tear on the right side of the bag
  • State Witness #7 – Roberta Vasquez, Vital Statistics Records Employee (State of Ohio)
    • Helped Hardin one time obtain three or four death certificates
    • Hardin had the approved permits to obtain a death certificates
  • WATCH:  Phony Funeral Home Trial: Day 1

Court TV Legal Correspondent Julia Jenaé contributed to this report.

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