MU expels student accused of rapes

Joseph Chase Hardin, 22, appears in Cabell Circuit Judge Gregory Howard's courtroom Wednesday in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Marshall University announced Wednesday it has expelled a student accused in a 2016 on-campus rape case after he appeared in court Wednesday to waive an initial hearing involving a possible probation revocation after two more women accused him of sexual assaults.

Joseph Chase Hardin, 22, was jailed last week on a probation hold related to his 2017 misdemeanor plea to battery. The reasons for the hold were allegations he had committed two additional rapes and consumed alcohol, both of which are against the rules of his probation.

His first court hearing was before Cabell Circuit Judge Gregory Howard on Wednesday, at which point his attorney Kerry Nessel said his client wanted to waive the preliminary revocation hearing. The case will now return to Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred E. Ferguson's courtroom, where he will face final sentencing. He faces up to a year in jail for the misdemeanor battery charge. A date for that hearing has not been set.

Because of the number of people who attended Wednesday's hearing, the case was heard in a larger courtroom. The most recent alleged victims and their friends attended the hearing, along with some family and friends of Hardin's first victim.

The new alleged victims of Hardin declined to speak.

Madison Summers, a friend of the woman Hardin was accused

of attacking in 2016, said she felt vindication in the courtroom Wednesday for her friend, who felt she needed to flee from campus to avoid seeing her attacker.

"She is the strongest woman I know, but to still go through something like this is very traumatic," she said. "She had to move. Marshall was her dream school. We did everything together, and I lost out on four years with her."

Hardin was named this month in a felony indictment charging him with four counts of second-degree sexual assault related to fall 2018 incidents involving two women, who are also students at the university. Marshall has said those alleged attacks did not occur on campus.

He will be arraigned on those charges later this month. He faces 10 to 25 years on each of those counts.

Despite the 2016 case occurring on Marshall University's campus, Hardin had not been expelled and was enrolled for the fall 2019 semester until Wednesday, when the school released a statement announcing his expulsion after the new allegations.

"We have taken, and will continue to take, aggressive steps to make sure the entire Marshall community is safe," President Jerome Gilbert said. "I have zero tolerance for inappropriate, illegal behavior, and pledge that we will always treat sexual misconduct and violence with the utmost gravity. The safety of our students is our first obligation."

Gilbert said pursuant to the university's Student Conduct Disciplinary Procedures, the decision is final.

In the original case, the defendant was indicted in 2016 on a single count of second-degree sexual assault after a female student, who has since left the university, implicated him. The university had issued a campus-wide alert at 6:20 p.m. Feb. 1, 2016, that a student reported she was assaulted that afternoon in a room at an on-campus residence hall.

Hardin entered a Kennedy plea to misdemeanor battery in 2017 and was ordered to serve three years' probation in that case. A Kennedy plea allows a conviction without the defendant admitting guilt or explaining his role in a crime.

Keith Gonzales, the original victim's grandfather, drove from out of state to attend the hearing for his granddaughter. He said he felt it was important to show unity among the groups.

"It was rewarding to see him in prison orange, finally," he said. "I just wished my family could have been here."

Gonzales said he hopes the new alleged victims can get the justice that he believed his granddaughter did not receive.

"To have that happen the first time with my granddaughter and see how it played out and know that she didn't get the justice she deserved and now see this (is powerful)," he said. "My prayer is justice will be served and that other women this has happened to speak up."

A lawsuit filed by the alleged 2016 victim is pending against the university in federal court. The lawsuit alleges Marshall violated Title IX standards by allowing the attacker to remain a student, which forced the victim to leave the university.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHDand via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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