Bay City Times, June 9, 2000
Christian bookstore operator asks 15-year-old boy to spank him--
Court affirms overturning of sex conviction
By Tom Gilchrist, Times writer
Prosecutors claim Christian bookstore operator Paul E. Tappert asked a 15-year-old boy to spank him. A Tuscola County jury even convicted Tappert of a crime in connection with the case.
A state Court of Appeals, however, has affirmed a judge's decision overturning Tappert's conviction.
The higher court chose not to hear an appeal of a ruling by Tuscola County Circuit Court Judge Patrick R. Joslyn. Tuscola County prosecutors appealed Joslyn's decision overturning Tappert's conviction.
Joslyn ruled that visiting Judge Michael Matuzak "abused his discretion" by not granting a directed verdict that would have thrown out prosecutors' case against Tappert.
Tappert, operator of the Discipleship Family Bookstore in Caro, was 51 years old on June 6, 1998, the date prosecutors allege he asked a 15-year-old male store worker to spank him.
The Caro boy said he refused to strike Tappert, but authorities eventually charged Tappert with a crime. A Tuscola County District Court jury convicted Tappert of attempted fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct on April 29, 1999.
Joslyn, however, "said we hadn't proven Tappert (made his request) for the purpose of achieving sexual gratification," said Bruce E. Petrick, an assistant Tuscola County prosecutor.
Lansing attorney Jonathan Maire, who appealed Tappert's conviction in front of Joslyn, argued that the boy originally testified Tappert asked the boy to "strike (Tappert) with a belt."
Later in the youth's testimony, the boy would say Tappert asked him to "spank" Tappert, Maire told the judge.
"The word "spank' crept into (the teen-ager's) testimony and of course the word "spank' was the word the prosecution capitalized on with great emphasis during (its) closing argument," Maire argued.
The prosecution, however, "had alleged there were other things that went to the nature of the course of the relationship between Tappert and the boy," Petrick told The Times.
"Tappert was the boss over the boy who was an employee. There was a difference in age between them, and Tappert had held himself out in something of a mentoring role," Petrick said.
Petrick said the boy testified the youth had stood naked from the waist up in the bookstore while Tappert complimented the youth's physique. Petrick said Tappert claimed to be trying to boost the youth's self-image.
Tappert's attorney at trial, Bay City lawyer John L. Wildeboer, said Tappert sought only to help the youth. Even the boy admitted there had never been any sexual contact between himself and Tappert, Wildeboer said.
"I will agree with (Assistant Prosecutor Petrick) as far as Paul Tappert taking on a mentoring role - that's exactly what he was trying to do," Wildeboer said. "(Tappert) was trying to exercise some Christian influence on this boy, and I think everything he did was directed to that effect."
-Tom Gilchrist covers regional news for The Times. He can be reached at 894-9649.