Brenda Harding sentenced to lifetime probation for sex assault on teen who committed suicide

Society seems to have a different viewpoint about sex assaults involving an older woman and an underage male than if an older man and a teen girl are paired -- but the former can certainly have tragic consequences. Case in point: the relationship between a fifteen-year-old boy who committed suicide and Cañon City's Brenda Harding, who's now been sentenced to probation for ten years to life.

The teen, identified as Tristen Hagen, was a Buena Vista resident who reportedly met the thirty-year-old Harding because she was a friend of his stepmother. Harding has been described as a babysitter -- but it appears that more than sitting was taking place. Authorities believe they began having sex that June.

Tristen's father, who'd begun to suspect an unhealthy attraction between his son and Harding and told her to stop seeing him, reported the teen missing on April 2 of this year, precipitating a frantic search that ended two days later with the discovery of his body just a block or so from Harding's home. According to autopsy results cited by The Weekly Vice in the post linked above, he overdosed from an intentionally administered cocktail of Oxycodone and the muscle relaxant Skelaxin.

Eyes soon turned to Harding, and no wonder. Investigators found a condom wrapper on Tristen's body that matched a box spotted at Harding's home; his music player was there, too.

Harding told cops she'd last seen Tristen on April 1, the night before he disappeared. The theory: She'd told him the affair was over, and he took his own life out of remorse.

The Cañon City Daily Record notes that Harding was charged in May with four sex assault counts. She pleaded guilty to one of them on August 8 as part of a plea agreement, and yesterday, she received her sentence: ninety days in jail, ten years to life on probation, and no contact with anyone under age eighteen until the completion of a risk-assessment analysis. That includes her own two kids.

"I'm sorry for what has happened, not only because his life is gone," Harding told the court. "He was a friend of mine, and it went beyond that."

Here's a larger look at Harding's booking photo:

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More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Stefanie Dickinson, ex-school board member accused of sexting teen: New sex assault bust."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
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