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Jury Selection Set To Begin In NH Church Rape Case With Colorado Ties

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(credit: AP)

(credit: AP)

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – The case of a 15-year-old girl who prosecutors say was raped by a fellow church member and forced to stand before the congregation to apologize for getting pregnant will go to jury selection Monday.

Ernest Willis is charged with forcibly raping Christina Anderson twice during the summer of 1997, when she was his children’s baby sitter and he was 39. Lawyers for Willis, now 52, say in court documents that he will admit having sex with the girl once but maintains it was consensual.

Prosecutor Wayne Coull said he expects Anderson to be among the first witnesses called when the trial begins May 23 in Merrimack Superior Court. The trial is expected to last four days.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they were victims of sex crimes, but Anderson, now 29, asked that her name be made public.

Former Trinity Baptist Church Pastor Charles Phelps is on the prosecution’s list of witnesses. Anderson told police that Phelps arranged for her to move to Colorado and forced her to write a letter of apology she had to read to the fundamentalist congregation.

She then was told to move into a room in the Phelpses’ home until she was to leave for Colorado, which Anderson said happened within days.

Phelps is adamant that he reported the allegations to Concord police and was critical of them for failing to act. Police said they tried to investigate in 1997 but couldn’t find Anderson. They didn’t locate her until last year, when friends and Internet posts revealed she was living in Arizona under her married name.

Phelps, who now lives in Indiana, said last year that he helped relocate Anderson at her mother’s request. Anderson’s mother, Christine Leaf, has refused to comment on whether she initiated or consented to the relocation. She, too, is on the prosecution’s witness list.

Anderson told the AP earlier this month she is nervous about testifying and having her life rehashed publicly, but added, “It needs to be done. Justice needs to be done.”

In court documents, Coull said he doesn’t object to a motion by defense lawyers Donna Brown and Brooksley Belander to be allowed to question Anderson about sexual abuse inflicted on her by her former stepfather beginning when she was 9 and ending when she was 11.

Coull does object to defense efforts to bar testimony about Willis’ offer to take Anderson out of state for an abortion and his offer to punch her hard in the stomach to induce a miscarriage. Coull said in court documents that Willis’ “willingness to use violence” is highly relevant “and clearly indicative of guilt.”

The judge has yet to rule on those motions.

- By Lynne Tuohy, AP Writer

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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