CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – A New Hampshire man was found guilty Friday of forcibly raping and impregnating his children’s 15-year-old baby sitter, who belonged to the same church, more than a decade ago. That teen was forced to live with a family in Colorado and give the baby up for adoption.
The case involving 52-year-old Ernest Willis of Gilford garnered national attention because the fundamentalist Baptist church he and the girl attended made her apologize to the congregation. The pastor then helped ship the girl to live with a Colorado couple she didn’t know and put her baby up for adoption. Concord police did not locate her until last year.
Before trial, Willis pleaded guilty to one count of statutory rape but denied he forcibly raped Tina Anderson twice in 1997. He testified that the two had sex on only one occasion, it was consensual and no force was used.
Anderson, now 29, said in a victim impact statement Friday that Willis destroyed the person she was and filled her with shame and guilt. Willis looked at her throughout her statement, his face appearing flush.
The Associated Press typically does not identify those who say they are victims of sexual assault, but Anderson asked that her name be used.
Both Willis and the teen attended Concord’s Trinity Baptist Church. The case was shelved until last year, when online posts helped authorities find her in Arizona.
A lawyer for Willis told jurors during final arguments Thursday that Anderson had changed her story over the years so she would “look more like a victim.”
Defense attorney Donna Brown argued that Anderson never said in 1997 that Willis forced himself on her. She noted Anderson’s testimony that she had trouble remembering everything that happened 14 years ago.
The case pitted her word against his, and lawyers on both sides acknowledged in final arguments that at times it seemed that Concord’s Trinity Baptist Church and its former pastor were on trial as well.
The prosecution depicted Anderson as a terrified, pregnant teenager in 1997 who was expelled from the church’s school, separated from friends and family and punished for being the victim of a then 39-year-old married man. The defense argued that was all the more reason she should have shifted the blame to Willis and say she was forcily raped and that Willis offered to pay for an abortion or punch her hard enough in the stomach to induce a miscarriage.
“What happened to Tina at the hands of those people in her life is why she kept that secret for so long,” prosecutor Wayne Coull told the jury. “She got shamed, shunned silenced and sent away.”
In her victim impact statement, Anderson said she was devastated when she learned she was pregnant, then heartbroken when she had to put her daughter up for adoption. She also said the rape has had ripple effects on her marriage and the upbringing of her other three children.
Anderson testified she was in “complete shock” when she picked up the phone on her husband’s birthday in early 2010 to a Concord detective’s voice asking her if she wanted to talk about what happened in 1997.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)