New Hampshire Man Found Guilty of Rape of Tina Anderson

PHOTO Tina Anderson is shown on March 23, 1998.
Share
Copy

Ernest Willis, a New Hampshire man accused of raping and fathering a child with a 15-year-old girl from his church in 1997, was found guilty today of three counts of forcible rape and a count of felonious sexual assault.

Willis' case drew national headlines because his victim, Tina Anderson, who gave an exclusive interview to "20/20" last month, said she was forced to confess her "sin" -- the pregnancy -- in front of their congregation at Trinity Baptist Church, an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church (IFB) in Concord, N.H. The church's then-pastor, Chuck Phelps, helped arrange for Anderson to move thousands of miles away from home to live with an IFB family and give her child up for adoption.

Concord police said they couldn't find Anderson to investigate the rape allegations in 1997, the Associated Press reported. Police reopened their investigation after a former member of Trinity Baptist Church posted a message about Anderson's case on Facebook.

Willis, 51, faces 10 to 20 years in jail, in addition to up to 7 years on a statutory rape charge. Willis pled guilty to statutory rape days before the trial began but maintained that the sex was consensual.

His four-day trial included testimony from Anderson, now 29; her mother, Christine Leaf; Phelps and Willis himself.

In an April interview with "20/20," Anderson said that after being sexually assaulted twice by Willis, she was forced to stand before her Baptist congregation and confess her "sin" -- that she had become pregnant. She said she wasn't allowed to tell the group that the pregnancy happened because she was raped by Willis, a man twice her age.

Watch Anderson's story on this episode of "20/20."

"I still struggle, because I've been made to feel guilty for so long," Anderson said.

At the age of 14, Anderson was hired as a babysitter for the Willis family. She said the first assault occurred in the backseat of a car during a driving lesson. Anderson said Willis pulled her into the back of the car and raped her.

According to Anderson, the second assault occurred at her home when Willis showed up unannounced.

"He locked the door behind him and pushed me over to the couch. I had a dress on and he pulled it off. I pushed my hands against his shoulders and said 'No,' but he didn't stop," Anderson said.

Anderson told "20/20" that she confided her pregnancy to Willis. His reaction, she said, was to offer to pay for an abortion. When she rejected his offer, he presented another option, she said.

"He asked me if I wanted him to punch me in the stomach as hard as he could to try to cause a miscarriage," she said. "I told him, 'No, leave me alone.'"

Ernest Willis, convicted in the 1997 rape of Tina Anderson.

The judge presiding over Willis' trial this week initially ruled that Anderson could not testify about Willis' alleged offer to punch her. Judge Larry Smukler ruled that because Willis had admitted to having sex with Anderson, the accusation was irrelevant and inflammatory. Smukler later reversed his decision after Willis testified that he "wouldn't hurt the victim."

Sharing Her Secret

Anderson told "20/20" that after she summoned the courage to tell her mother, Christine Leaf, that she was pregnant, Leaf contacted their local pastor, Chuck Phelps. Anderson said it was Phelps who insisted she make a public apology.

At the same meeting, the church congregation also heard a confession from Willis that he had been unfaithful to his wife. Former church members told "20/20" that the confessions were presented as separate issues and there was no suggestion that Willis was the father of Anderson's baby.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Year In Pictures
Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images
PHOTO: James Franco and Seth Rogen in The Interview.
Ed Araquel/Sony/Columbia Pictures/AP Photo
PHOTO: Patrick Crawford is pictured in this photo from his Facebook page.
Meteorologist Patrick Crawford KCEN/Facebook
PHOTO: George Stinney Jr., the youngest person ever executed in South Carolina, in 1944, is seen in this undated file photo.
South Carolina Department of Archives and History/AP Photo