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Sheriff resumes work on 1987 missing child case after suspect arrested in Florida

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, left, and 14th District solicitor Duffie Stone hold a press conference on Thursday at the solicitor's office in Bluffton. The two discussed recent developments in the case of the 1987 disappearance of Beaufort youngster Paul Baker.
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, left, and 14th District solicitor Duffie Stone hold a press conference on Thursday at the solicitor's office in Bluffton. The two discussed recent developments in the case of the 1987 disappearance of Beaufort youngster Paul Baker.

Former Beaufort resident Susan Baker was interviewed Thursday by a Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigator about the disappearance of her stepson 22 years ago, after a missing 7-month-old girl in Florida was found in a box under her bed.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner and 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone called a press conference Thursday afternoon to discuss developments in the disappearance of 3-year-old Paul Baker who went missing from his Beaufort home in March 1987. The toddler was never found.

Tanner declined to compare the disappearance of Baker to that of Shannon Dedrick, who had been missing since Saturday and was found late Wednesday in a box under Baker's bed. Washington (Fla.) County Sheriff Bobby Haddock expects to charge Susan Baker, her husband James and the child's mother Chrystina Lynn Mercer.

"If we discuss similarities in these two cases, that's not going to help with their case in Florida," Tanner said. "All we would be doing is help Susan Baker's attorney build a defense. This is a wicked woman. We've always felt that from day one and we're not going to do anything to help her down in Florida."

Baker was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill in 1987, accused of abusing Paul Baker's sister, Nina Baker, who was 6. She later pleaded guilty to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature and was sentenced to 80 days in jail and five years of probation.

Susan and James Baker moved to Florida but were extradited to South Carolina in 2000 in connection with Paul's disappearance. A Beaufort County grand jury did not indict Susan Baker or James Baker on charges of high and aggravated assault and battery. In 2003, charges of unlawful neglect of a child against the Bakers were dropped.

Stone said despite the charges levied against them in the past, his office can still prosecute the Bakers in connection with Paul's disappearance.

"There is no statute of limitations in the state of South Carolina," Stone said. "We can still prosecute a criminal offense at any time."

Stone also added that trying Baker again for Paul's disappearance wouldn't violate constitutional protections against double jeopardy because the previous charges never resulted in a trial.

"That would only apply if we had tried the case and lost or tried the case and won," Stone said.

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