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Former MU student found guilty of 2 sexual assault charges, not guilty of 2 others; victims react

Published: Aug. 17, 2020 at 11:37 AM EDT
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Update 8/17/20 @ 10:10 p.m.

A jury returned a mixed verdict Monday against a former Marshall University student accused of sexually assaulting two women in 2018.

Chase Hardin, 23, who has been on trial since early last week, was found guilty of two counts of second-degree sexual assault and not guilty of two other counts of second-degree assault.

Two of the counts were connected to one victim, and the other two to the second victim.

The jury deliberated for more than six hours before reaching its verdict around 6:30 p.m.

The judge immediately revoked Hardin’s bond because of the conviction. He was later escorted out of the courthouse and was taken to jail.

Up until this point, WSAZ has not identified either of Hardin’s accusers. But after the verdict came down, both agreed to do an interview and release their identities.

“It feels good, honestly,” said Frankie Crabtree.

“It feels good to not be a victim, someone who should be ashamed to put her name out there anymore,” said Ripley Haney. “That my name can finally be out there because he was found guilty of it. This does not define us.”

When asked if Crabtree still felt a sense of justice, even though Hardin was found not guilty in her case, her response was, “I do because, even though he was not found guilty on all of them, I don’t think he would have been found guilty of what he was if I had not come forward, as well.”

During the trial, both Haney and Crabtree took the stand to testify. Both of them say the years of pain and having to relive it on the stand is worth it.

“I feel so empowered being able to sit on the stand and put everything out there that was embarrassing and that I didn’t want to talk about, but knowing that all was worth it and it doesn’t matter what happened before. I can do about anything right now,” Haney said. “Now this this is over, it’s going to be a long time to recover, but I can’t even believe that it’s over. I can go into my junior year of nursing school and not have to worry about coming to the courthouse. It’s so freeing.”

Hardin’s defense attorney, Kerry Nessel, released a statement to WSAZ after the verdict came down. That statement read in part, “We are a little shocked at the verdict. Chase was shocked, as well, but was in somewhat decent spirits. I feel bad for his family and friends, but in that same vein, I hope both alleged victims can put this behind them and live happy, productive lives.”

Before the jury was handed the case Monday morning, closing arguments were heard in the case.

The judge gave the jury instructions that the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which is what the defense argued about during closing arguments, saying the state hadn’t proven reasonable doubt.

During closings, prosecutors pointing to the fact the defense has said this is a ‘he said, she said’ type of case, then going on to argue that cases of rape “do not occur in front of witnesses.”

Kellie Neal, of the prosecution, then went on to say no medical evidence or DNA was needed to convict in this case — pointing to the fact that both alleged victims waited to report their cases to police.

Neal then pointed to testimony given by an expert witness, Marla Wilcox-Eddy, who testified that many sexual assault victims wait to report for a number of different reasons, one of them being fear.

Neal pointed to the fact that both alleged victims were fearful, one afraid of her parents finding out, the other, afraid of losing her friend because she was Hardin’s sister and ruining Hardin’s life.

Neal said, “The law understands all of that and says if you find they are telling you the truth, if you believe them then that’s enough. Done. Case over.”

The prosecution then went onto to the issue of credibility — saying they feel credibility lies with the alleged victims in the case and not Hardin.

Neal brought up inconsistencies in testimony from Hardin to the jury. Neal mentioned different accounts he gave to Huntington Police Detective Sgt. Matt Null, Shana Thompson and a Title XI Investigator for Marshall University.

Neal, closing out her portion of the arguments by asking the jurors, “Why would they make this up?” and then ending by saying with all this evidence, the jurors would find the state has proven Hardin is guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

Kerry Nessel, handled closing arguments for the defense team. Nessel focusing closings on four words—beyond a reasonable doubt.

Nessel argued the state had not proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt, saying it is a “he said, she said” case and that there are two sides to every story, which he said was indeed reasonable doubt.

He then referred back to a question the prosecution asked about what benefit the alleged victims would have coming forward.

Nessel’s response to that was, “I don’t know why they’ve tried to pretty much ruin this young man’s life, but he isn’t a rapist or sexual assaulter. He’s a young man who picks women he possibly shouldn’t pick.”

Nessel went on to say that Hardin, when taking the stand, gave the jury plausible and reasonable explanations as to what happened in both alleged incidents. Nessel said Hardin was open and honest about it.

He then started to the jury that there was no direct evidence in the case, saying all of it is circumstantial, ‘one person’s word against the others.’

He ended by saying, “Folks, this is on you. A young man’s freedom hangs in the balance.”

Ultimately, the jury decided to convict Hardin in Haney’s case, but found him not guilty of the charges in Crabtree’s.

“It doesn’t matter what happened before and what you said before to him doesn’t matter,” Haney said. “It doesn’t matter how many yeses you gave. The one ‘no’ you gave means no and it doesn’t make you weak or a victim. But coming forward makes you strong and standing up and getting that justice that you deserve is so worth it. No matter how long and how hard it is, it’s so worth it.”

Hardin is due back in court at 9 a.m. Sept. 15. for his sentencing. He faces 10 to 25 years for each count.

Original Story

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The trial against a former Marshall University student accused of sexually assaulting two women in 2018 is now in the hands of a jury.

Closing arguments in the trial against Chase Hardin, 23, were heard Monday morning in a Cabell County courtroom. The jury then left to begin deliberations.

On Friday morning, the state called its final witness. Then the defense called four people to the stand, including Hardin himself who testified on his own behalf.

For our previous story on this trial click here.

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