Former Fairfield coach, counselor convicted of sex crime withdraws request for early release

A request for early release of a former Fairfield High School guidance counselor and coach serving a prison sentence for having sex with a student was withdrawn by his defense team.

Craig Harden, 44, of Liberty Twp., pleaded guilty to sexual battery, a third-degree felony, in November 2017, days after his arrest.

On Jan. 24, 2018, Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Howard sentenced Harden to 3 1/2 years in prison. He was also declared a Tier III sexual oriented offender, meaning he will have to register his residence every 90 days for the rest of his life.

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The victim was 15 at the time of the offense and was present for sentencing.

“I feel horrible,” Harden said to the judge. “I am disappointed in myself. I pray for healing at some point.”

Harden’s attorney, Jacob Long, filed a motion asking Howard to reduce his client’s sentence and release him from prison through judicial release. A hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, but Long and attorney Chris Pagan withdrew the motion. They did not respond for a request for comment.

In the motion, Long said Harden has already served a significant term of incarceration and has successfully completed multiple phases of the Reformers Institution Program.

“Upon his release from prison, Mr. Harden has significant support from his family and church. Mr. Harden will be employed once his is released (and) Mr. Harden has lined up mental health counseling that would start immediately,” Long wrote in the motion.

The investigation began when Fairfield police detectives received a call from school administrators about the alleged inappropriate relationship. Harden was interviewed by detectives and confessed.

“Mr. Harden told me that he did in fact have sexual intercourse with the known underage victim on two separate occasions at her home,” according to a police report by Officer Aaron Meyer. “Mr. Harden told me that the two became close in the late summer months of 2017.”

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The mother of the victim told the Journal-News it is unfair that Harden could potentially serve just one year “and my child receives a life sentence.”

“Craig Harden’s letter claims he now has a good support system: a solid marriage, a relationship with his pastor, and a job. He had all of these things before raping our child. I fail to see how the same circle of friends will keep him from grooming another child,” the woman said.

Assistant Prosecutor Kelly Heile said in a motion objecting to Harden’s release, “it is a self-centered request for leniency, with neither a true acknowledgement to the deep violation of trust that he committed.”

Harden, in addition to counseling duties, was an assistant coach for the Fairfield High School girls basketball team and coached the girls golf team.

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