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Bluffton woman convicted of sexually assaulting 13-year-old boy

A Bluffton woman was convicted Wednesday of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old boy while she was baby-sitting him and his sisters.

Susan Tappeiner, 42, was taken into custody after the verdict was announced in the Beaufort County Courthouse in Beaufort. She will remain in the county jail until her sentencing.

Judge Carmen Mullen delayed that sentencing pending results of an investigation by the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services into Tappeiner's claim that she, too, has been abused and that she's had mental health problems. The investigation is expected to take about three weeks.

Mullen said that before she determines an appropriate sentence, she wants to know "how we got to this point."

Second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, Mullen said.

Tappeiner will be placed on the state sex offender registry. She was charged in February with sexually assaulting the boy, who is now 15. The incident occurred on Aug. 15, 2008.

The boy's mother, whose name is being withheld to protect her son's identity, addressed the court after the verdict was announced.

"My son was very brave and faced enormous obstacles ... in bringing this forward," she said. "We're grateful she's going to be on the sex offender registry and believe she needs to serve time for what she has put our family through."

Mullen asked Tappeiner to speak after the verdict. As the woman's husband and parents looked on, she said, "I'm in shock right now. All I can think about is my children."

In February, the boy told Michael Creason, a Bluffton police officer stationed at the school the teen was attending, H.E. McCracken Middle, about the encounter, the officer testified Tuesday. The boy is now in the eighth grade in another state, according to testimony.

The boy testified that on Aug. 15, 2008, he was watching movies with Tappeiner, her husband and two daughters, his sisters and another neighborhood girl at the Tappeiners' home.

After everyone fell asleep, he said, Tappeiner grabbed him by the arm and dragged him to her daughter's bedroom. She locked the door and struck him when he tried to escape, he told jurors. He testified that Tappeiner forced him to perform oral sex on her, then have sexual intercourse. He said Tappeiner told him not to tell anyone what had happened.

Tappeiner, represented by Beaufort attorney Mike Macloskie, did not testify.

Her husband, Mike Tappeiner, told jurors he and his wife had been drinking the night of the incident. He said they went upstairs to bed together and that he did not hear her get up during the night.

The boy testified that he had yelled for help. Mike Tappeiner told jurors he heard nothing, that he had been asleep in the master bedroom across the hall and never awoke.

The boy testified that he returned to his mother's home, which is near the Tappeiners' house, after the incident because he was afraid. He said he climbed through a window because the doors were locked and that his mother had not yet returned. When she arrived, he said, he asked her for Excedrin because he felt ill.

Mike Tappeiner had a different story. He testified the boy was asleep on his living room floor with the other children the morning after the incident and that nothing seemed amiss.

Before jurors deliberated, assistant solicitor Dawn Burke gave her closing arguments:

"Would you let (Susan Tappeiner) baby-sit your kids? Your grandkids? ... The answer to that is why you should find her guilty."

Macloskie said in his closing arguments that he didn't understand how no one -- not the other children or Mike Tappeiner -- reported hearing the boy yell for help. He also said he didn't understand how the boy could not have escaped from Susan Tappeiner.

The jury took about two hours to reach a guilty verdict.