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Hardin to serve year in jail after probation revoked

HUNTINGTON — A Huntington man accused of sexually assaulting two young women will remain in jail as he fights the charges in court after Cabell County Circuit Court Judge Alfred Ferguson on Friday revoked his probation, a sentence he was serving for battery of another woman.

Joseph Chase Hardin, 22, of Huntington, will now serve one year in jail after Ferguson ruled he violated the terms of his probation after being indicted on four counts of second-degree sexual assault, plus admitting he drank alcohol. He will get credit for the 49 days he has already served. The ruling came after two days of testimony, including testimony from Hardin.

Hardin was sentenced to three years of probation after entering a Kennedy plea to misdemeanor battery after being accused of raping Alicia Gonzales in a Marshall University residence hall in 2016.

Gonzales, who attended Friday's hearing, said for the first time in a long time she is feeling an overwhelmingly positive emotion.

"There has been so much injustice, but I finally feel like I got the justice I deserve," Gonzales said.

Hardin was indicted in June on the new sexual assault charges, which allege he assaulted two women in the fall of 2018. Hardin and his alleged victims were students at Marshall

at the time, but the alleged incidents did not occur on campus. Hardin was expelled by Marshall after the most recent indictment.

In explaining his decision, Ferguson said he had wanted to see how all the witnesses answered questions, which is why he allowed one of Hardin's alleged victims to testify earlier this month.

"When the defendant testified today, it is obvious he is quite intelligent and poised, but he can also be a manipulator," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said he could think of reasons the alleged victims would wait so long to come forward after the alleged incidents — guilt, shame and fear — but he struggled to come up with any logical reasons why they would make up the allegations and then submit themselves to trial.

"When someone says no, that's what it means," Ferguson said. "Everything up to that point in time was consensual, but when a woman or a man, or even a kid, says no, that's the end of it."

While on the stand, Hardin denied even knowing that the two women were upset after the incidents took place. He said the allegations only arose after he got back together with his ex-girlfriend.

"I know it made people mad that I kept going back to her," Hardin said. "The night of the 11th, I posted a photo on Instagram. It was 'Good times with an even better girl,' and it was three photos with me and (his girlfriend). At that point there hadn't been any problems and the next day, (one of the victims) calls 911."

In his closing statements, Hardin's attorney Kerry Nessel asked the judge to consider allowing Hardin out of jail on home confinement to serve his sentence.

Hardin will return to court Tuesday, July 30, for a pretrial hearing on the most recent charges.

Gonzales also has sued Marshall University, alleging it mishandled her Title IX case, which forced her to leave the university. According to documents filed Tuesday, the federal Judge Robert Chambers has granted Marshall's motion for summary judgment. A trial date had been set for next week.

The CONTACT Rape Crisis Center provides free and confidential services to anyone affected by sexual assault in Cabell, Lincoln, Wayne and Mason counties. CONTACT can be reached at 866-399-7273 or 304-399-1111.


Judge dismisses lawsuit against MU

HUNTINGTON — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Marshall University that alleged the school's mishandling of a Title IX case forced a student to permanently leave the university.

U.S. District Court for Southern West Virginia Judge Robert Chambers granted the university's motion for summary judgment Tuesday, according to court documents. The full order has not yet been released.

Alicia Gonzales filed the lawsuit against the Marshall University Board of Governors in January 2018.

In February 2016, Gonzales reported to the Marshall University Police Department that Joseph Chase Hardin, now 22, sexually assaulted her in her dorm room on campus, and as required by federal law, the university began an investigation.

The lawsuit alleges that the university's decision to allow Hardin to remain a student for months during a lengthy appeals process forced Gonzales to abandon her education at Marshall.

Hardin was indicted in Cabell County for sexual assault, but in 2017 he entered a Kennedy plea to misdemeanor battery. On Friday, Cabell County Circuit Court Judge Alfred Ferguson revoked Hardin's probation after he was indicted on four new charges of second-degree sexual assault.

In their motion for summary judgments, lawyers for Marshall state the suit should be dismissed because Gonzales could not show the university was deliberately indifferent, that the university's actions were clearly unreasonable in light of the circumstances known, or that she was subject to a hostile environment.

In her lawsuit, Gonzales alleges the university violated her rights under Title IX in various instances, including the time it took to reach a final decision in the matter.

In their response to Marshall's motion, her representatives state the way the university carried out the Title IX process was inequitable and showed deliberate indifference, favoring Hardin over Gonzales. The response also quotes a Title IX expert who said many of the university's policies were unheard of, such as tying the outcome of Hardin's criminal case to the Title IX decision.

Because they have not received the judge's order, Marshall reserved comment Friday, said communications director Leah Payne.

The Gonzales family is also awaiting the final order before deciding if they will proceed with an appeal.

Earlier this year, the university settled a different lawsuit that alleged it mishandled a sexual assault case.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.


Officials reveal plans to widen I-64
Work between Merritts Creek, Huntington Mall to begin next summer

CABELL COUNTY

CHARLESTON — A widening project on Interstate 64 from the Merritts Creek exit to the Huntington Mall exit in Barboursville is scheduled to begin next summer.

Gov. Jim Justice and leaders from the West Virginia Department of Transportation announced Friday that the contract for the project has been awarded to Triton Construction Inc. of Nitro. The company was awarded the design-build job for the approximately two-mile section with a bid of $71.7 million, according to a news release from the governor's office.

The project is part of the governor's Roads to Prosperity program, and will double the width of the existing section of interstate from four lanes to eight lanes, according to the release. The scope of work also calls for the replacement of five sets of overpass bridges.

"This widening project along that stretch of I-64 is an important safety project for us," West Virginia Transportation Secretary Byrd White said in the release. "It will really open that area up and help mitigate the congestion that has been present there for years."

The project is scheduled to be completed sometime in late 2022, according to the release.

West Virginia voters approved the $1.6 billion Roads to Prosperity amendment in a statewide vote Oct. 7, 2017. That gave the state the authority to sell general obligation bonds for major road and bridge projects across the state.

Media outlets reported the first round of bonds went to market in June 2018, which brought in $913 million to the state.

On Monday, the state House of Delegates approved two resolutions authorizing the state to move forward with the second round of bonds. The Senate unanimously adopted the two resolutions Tuesday.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.