A 73-year-old Bluffton man has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for sexually assaulting two girls at his home between 2006 and 2011.
Joseph Stephen Hunter pleaded guilty Wednesday in Beaufort County General Sessions Court to three counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor and one count of first-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.
“This man groomed these young girls and then preyed on them like a true predator,” said Hunter Swanson of the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, who prosecuted the case.
The assaults began when the girls were 6- and 7-years old and ended when the children and their families moved from the area. Years later, one of the girls disclosed the sexual abuse to a therapist, who then contacted law enforcement.
Electronic forensic evidence seized from Hunter’s home in 2016 revealed child pornography and other evidence of the girls’ sexual abuse.
Circuit Court Judge Carmen T. Mullen sentenced Hunter to 15 years for each third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor charge and 20 years for sexual exploitation. The 15-year sentences are to run concurrently but will be served consecutively to the 20-year sentence for a total of 35 years in prison.
Swanson head’s up the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office Special Victims Unit, which prosecutes cases involving domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and other crimes against vulnerable populations. Swanson has earned convictions in all nine cases she has prosecuted since the SVU was formed in December 2017.