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Joseph Chase Hardin, who was charged with four counts of second-degree sexual assault, appears Aug. 17, 2020, in Cabell Circuit Court in this file photo.

HUNTINGTON — West Virginia’s high court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of a former Marshall University student convicted of rape and accused of similar crimes twice more.

Joseph Chase Hardin, 24, was found guilty by a jury in August 2020 on two counts of second-degree sexual assault for the rape of Ripley Haney. He was acquitted on two similar charges filed after allegations made by Frankie Crabtree.

Haney was the first to report her rape, which she said occurred Oct. 7, 2018, in the parking lot of a local museum. Crabtree came forward after reading Haney’s blog and said she was raped Sept. 1, 2018, at The Village Apartments in Huntington.

Hardin testified he believed the women reported he assaulted them because they were jealous of his girlfriend.

Ultimately, he was sentenced to serve 25 to 50 years in prison.

The women were not the first to accuse Hardin. He had been charged with sexual assault, and later was convicted of misdemeanor battery in the attack of Alicia Gonzales, and had been serving probation on that case at the time the new cases reportedly happened.

All four were students at Marshall University when the incidents took place.

The Herald-Dispatch typically does not publish the names of sexual assault victims, but all three of Hardin’s victims have publicly come forward.

Before his sentencing, Hardin had asked Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred E. Ferguson for a new trial, stating there had been insufficient evidence to support his convictions. He also argued that the prosecution’s witnesses — which included his accusers — lacked credibility and the prosecutors had introduced impermissible hearsay and religious character evidence.

Hardin was denied and was instead sentenced to serve 25 to 50 years in prison. He then appealed his ruling to the state Supreme Court.

In their ruling released Wednesday, the justices unanimously agreed with Ferguson’s ruling and upheld his conviction.

On his appeal, defense attorney Abe Saad said the court erred in restricting him and defense attorney Kerry Nessel from presenting evidence about three separate grand jury hearings it took for them to return an indictment against Hardin, when it typically takes one.

Katherine M. Smith, who argued against the appeal on behalf of the state, argued that any prior grand jury proceedings did not change any fact presented at the trial.

Saad also said the state engaged in prosecutorial misconduct and the judge committed a cumulative error that violated Hardin’s due process rights.

First, the defense said the court had erred by allowing prosecutors to bring up Haney’s religious beliefs in an effort to bolster her testimony. However, the justices wrote it was both the defense and prosecutors who talked about her religion. The defense also failed to object to testimony from religious leaders and others at the campus ministry who testified at the trial.

The state did not reference religion, religious beliefs or faith during closing arguments, but the defense attorneys had said Hardin’s and Haney’s relationship had been built on a mutual devotion to Christ, the justices said.

In another argument, Saad said the prosecution had displayed and discussed inadmissible evidence from Huntington Police Department detective Matt Null’s interview with Hardin during closing arguments. During closing arguments, the state put portions of a detective’s interview with Hardin on an overhead projector, to which Hardin’s counsel had not objected.

The justices said the display recapped his testimony and did not have a tendency to mislead the jury.

Hardin is housed at Western Regional Jail in Barboursville and has not been transferred to the prison system in the year and a half since his conviction.

Courtney Hessler is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch, covering state government, health and Marshall University. Follow her on Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

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