AUGUSTA — A jury will return Thursday to continue deliberations in the trial of a former Oakland woman accused of sexually abusing two young children.

Sarah B. Conway, 28, now of Canaan, New Hampshire, took the stand Wednesday morning to testify in her own defense. She denied willingly sexually assaulting both children and said she felt threatened by co-defendant Stephen R. Smith, 38, her former boyfriend, during the time the alleged offenses occurred, between Dec. 1, 2014 and March 31, 2015, in Oakland.

Smith pleaded guilty to a number of charges of sexual assault on the two children and is serving the 18-year unsuspended portion of his 30-year sentence.

He was the first witness called by the state when the trial began Tuesday afternoon at the Capital Judicial Center. The jury sent a note to the judge after deliberating nearly four hours Wednesday afternoon, saying they were finding it difficult to reach a unanimous verdict.

The judge reiterated some instructions and offered to allow them to go eat or to go home until Thursday morning.

Shortly after returning to the jury room, they sent a note saying they wanted to return Thursday.

They were told to return at 9 a.m. and warned to avoid outside information about the case.

On Wednesday, Conway was the only witness called by defense attorney Sherry Tash.

Conway testified that while Smith made her happy on occasion, she went along with the assaults because she also “felt trapped, scared of him and scared of losing my kids. I felt I had no choice and I was forced.”

Both Tash and the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh, agreed to the admit into evidence text messages between Conway and two separate friends.

In one, Conway wrote: “So early after Stephen and I got together, he started choking me and hitting me during sex, sometimes leaving marks. I was afraid. I almost passed out once cuz (sic) he couldn’t stop himself and I had a panic attack and felt dizzy for a while. Then he told me that he was attracted to young kids. He told me everything and then told me I could never tell or he would find a way to take me down and make sure I never see my kids again.”

Shortly after both sides finished presenting evidence Wednesday morning, Justice Robert Mullen acquitted Conway of two charges of visual sexual aggression. Tash had sought the acquittal on the basis that the state did not provide evidence to support the charge.

That left the jury of seven women and five men to decide on the charge of gross sexual assault on the young boy, who was 3 at the time; and two unlawful sexual contact charges, one of those involving the boy and a girl.

In his closing argument, Cavanaugh urged jurors to believe Smith’s testimony over Conway’s, saying Smith was consistent in his story, but Conway changed her story to police. He said she stopped him from doing things several times and could have done so other times.

“She wasn’t under his control. She was making decisions. She had the phone. She had the job. She had the car,” Cavanaugh said.

Conway worked a full-time, home health care job during the day and a part-time job at a fast food restaurant several nights a week and Saturday mornings to support her family.

In her closing argument, Tash told jurors, “Sarah Conway never wanted any of this. Did she put herself in a bad position? Yes. This guy brought the world of child sex abuse into her home.”

The investigation began in September 2015 when Conway went to the police in Canaan to tell police about Smith’s sexual activity involving the children in Maine.

On Tuesday morning before the jury trial, Conway pleaded guilty to two counts of endangering the welfare of a child under the age of 16.

Each count carries a maximum of 364 days in prison.

The judge indicated the sentencing would be done later.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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