AUGUSTA — A jury on Wednesday convicted a former Oakland woman of sexually assaulting a 3-year-old boy.

Sarah B. Conway, 28, most recently of Canaan, New Hampshire, admitted that the sexual act occurred between December 2014-March 2015 in Oakland, but said she did it involuntarily because her boyfriend forcibly compelled her to do it.

When the verdict was announced Wednesday morning that she was guilty of gross sexual assault, Conway cried, wiping at her eyes with a handkerchief.

Her former boyfriend, Stephen R. Smith, 38, is serving an initial 18-year unsuspended portion of a 30-year prison term for that and other crimes and then will be on probation.

A different jury had failed to reach a verdict on Conway’s gross sexual assault charge in January 2017.

But on Wednesday, a jury of eight men and four women at the Capital Judicial Center began deliberations at 10:30 a.m. following closing arguments by attorneys and they deliberated for less than 30 minutes before returning a verdict.

The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh, played back portions of the police audio interviews with Conway as part of his closing argument to the jury.

“That is voluntary, rational, bad decision-making,” he said.

Conway was brought to the Kennebec County jail Wednesday following the verdict. The judge indicated that sentencing would be held later, but did not set a date for that hearing. She faces a maximum penalty of up to 30 years in prison.

“I’m glad we tried it a second time,” District Attorney Meaghan Maloney said after the verdict Wednesday. “I’m thankful to the jury for their services and I firmly believe it was the right verdict.”

Children who are believed to be victims of sexual abuse are generally referred to The Children’s Advocacy Center. In Kennebec and Somerset counties, that program is run by the Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center, and referrals come from law enforcement, the district attorney’s office and the state Department of Health and Human Services.

“We see over 400 children annually who are suspected to be victims of sexual abuse,” Donna Strickler, executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center, which operates the program, said Wednesday.

It allows for a one-time forensic interview of the children, which is recorded and watched live by a team of service providers.

“Generally the children are ages 4 or older; however, we have seen children as young as 2½,” Strickler said. “It depends on the ability of the child to articulate. What we do is help provide support for them to recover. Research shows having that support makes a difference in their ability to heal from the trauma.”

The investigation began when Conway went to police in Canaan, New Hampshire, at the direction of her family after they learned the reason why she broke off her relationship with Smith, whom they had liked.

She told Sgt. Ryan Porter initially about Smith’s fetish with child pornography. Conway, who has three children, also told police that Smith had said he had abused his own children sexually and tried to talk her into abusing her children.

The trial witnesses — Conway, her former boyfriend, Smith, and Porter — testified on Tuesday. The only other evidence submitted were two audio recordings of Conway being interviewed by Porter in September 2015, when she came to report about it.

“I’m not contesting that the physical act happened,” defense attorney Sherry Tash said in her closing argument. “I’m focusing on the defenses.”

She told jurors, “Sarah’s conduct on that day was not voluntary. (Smith) said he pushed her. She described it a lot more violently.”

Tash said Smith was motivated to lie about what happened. “He lost his freedom — 18 years in prison — that only happened because Sarah went to the police.” Tash said Smith lost his home, might never see the daughter he had with Conway, and he “blames her for him having perhaps STDs.”

Cavanaugh urged the jury to consider this question: “Has the state proven beyond a reasonable doubt that her conduct was voluntary and she was not under duress?”

He told jurors that duress was not available as a defense if Conway recklessly placed herself in that situation.

“She ended up in that bed with (the victim) and her boyfriend recklessly,” Cavanaugh said.

While Justice Donald Marden initially continued bail for Conway after the verdict, problems arose almost immediately with her living arrangements because of her new conviction.

He later ordered that she be held without bail, but indicated it could be reviewed at a later date. Conditions prohibit Conway from contact with children under age 16, including her own children, except for a monthly, supervised visit with her younger daughter, whom she had with Smith.

Conway initially was indicted on seven separate charges in August of 2016. She pleaded guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child under 16 prior to the January 2017 jury trial. Those charges each carry a maximum of 364 days in jail.

At that trial, the judge acquitted Conway of two counts of visual sexual aggression, and the jury deadlocked on the charge of gross sexual assault on a child under 12. That same jury cleared her of two counts of unlawful sexual contact on a child under 12, all of which allegedly occurred between Dec. 1, 2014, and March 31, 2015, in Oakland.

The Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which aims “to end sexual violence in Maine and to support high quality sexual violence prevention and response within Maine communities,” offers some national child sexual assault statistics on its website based on a 2003 study. It says people under 18 years old account for 67 percent of all sexual assault victimizations reported to law enforcement agencies; children under 12 years old account for 34 percent of those cases, and children under 6 years old account for 14 percent of those cases.

MECASA offers a statistic of its own, saying: “In 2015, approximately 50 percent of calls to Maine’s sexual assault crisis and support line related to child sexual abuse.”

The Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center itself provides services for all ages and all genders. Assistance is available by phone and online at 1-800-871-7741 and silentnomore.org

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams