May 27, 2011 -- 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.
"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.'"
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.
Tina Anderson Rape Case: Ernest Willis Found Guilty
Phelps, now a pastor at another IFB church, told "20/20" that Anderson voluntarily stood before the congregation in 1997, that he reported Willis to the Concord Police and complied with all legal requirements of him at the time.
After she announced she was pregnant, Phelps and Anderson's mother arranged to send her thousands of miles away to Colorado to live with another IFB family.
In his testimony this week, Phelps said he did not notify police that Anderson was leaving the state for Colorado but added, "I didn't whisk her away...I've been thrown under the bus on this thing."
Leaf, Anderson's mother, testified that she did not support her daughter's allegations, saying "I only support the truth, not a lie."
In March 1998, Anderson gave birth to a baby girl. Adoption records show that Willis admitted he was the father.
Thirteen years after the alleged crime, Matt Barnhart, a former member of Anderson's church, who was present when she confessed to being pregnant in 1997, wrote a post referencing her story on a Facebook page called, "Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Cult Survivors (And their Supporters)."
Barnhart told "20/20" that Anderson's confession bothered him for years but he felt he couldn't speak out about it.
"The whole culture is you don't question the ministry, you don't question the pastor," he said.
The IFB Facebook page supervisor, who runs an advocacy group for former IFB members, alerted Concord, N.H., police.
Anderson, who at the time was teaching voice at the International Baptist College in Chandler, Ariz., said she got the call from police out of the blue. Since making her allegations public, Anderson has lost her job, The Concord Monitor reported.
In her April interview with 20/20, Anderson said that, despite her traumatic experiences, she hasn't abandoned her faith. Anderson, who is married now and has three more children, says she knows what to tell them about that dark chapter in her life.
"I would just say, 'Mommy went through a time where some bad people did some, some tough things ...but we've made it through,'" she said, "'and God is still good.'"