Former Baptist Church Member Ernest Willis Sentenced to Prison for Rape of Teen Parishioner

Tina Anderson was made to apologize in church for pregnancy resulting from rape.

ByABC News
September 6, 2011, 7:31 PM

Sept. 6, 2011 — -- A New Hampshire judge today sentenced former Baptist church member Ernest Willis to 15 to 30 years in prison for the forcible rape of a teenage girl from his church who got pregnant as a result.

The case made national headlines because the victim, Tina Anderson, said she was forced to confess her "sin" -- the pregnancy -- in front of the 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.

Today, it was Willis' turn to apologize before he was sentenced.

Ernest Willis, 52, of Gilford said he was "sorry and ashamed for this thoughtless act of sexual misconduct." But in his lengthy statement he did not admit he forcibly raped the girl.

Listening by telephone from Arizona, Anderson, now 29, said she was "thrilled" with the sentence.

"It's a huge amount of vindication for me," she told The Associated Press. "I was never really believed, no matter how many times I said it was not consensual. Now it's been proven in a court of law that he's guilty and he's been given a significant sentence."

Willis was arrested in 2010. A jury convicted him in May of three counts of forcible rape and a count of felonious sexual assault. His lawyers say he will appeal those convictions.

Before his trial in May, Willis pleaded guilty to one count of statutory rape. He maintained they had consensual sex on one occasion only, but acknowledged the girl was under the legal age of consent.

Willis remained stoic as the judge sent him to prison for a minimum of 15 years.

In an April interview with ABC News' "20/20," Anderson said that after she was sexually assaulted 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," she 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 teen babysat Willis's children and considered him a father figure, a prosecutor said.

"Her trust and admiration were repaid with violence and rape," prosecutor Wayne Coull told Merrimack Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler.

Coull said the most aggravating factor of all was Willis's offer to cause a miscarriage.

"For the defendant to be so cruel and selfish as to recommend such actions upon a child is just outrageous," Coull added.

Anderson gave birth to a baby girl in 1998. The child was given up for adoption.

Anderson has since married and had three other children.

Phelps, the pastor who arranged for Anderson to move and give up her baby for adoption, 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.

During the trial in May, Christine Leaf, Anderson's mother, testified that she did not support her daughter's allegations, saying, "I only support the truth, not a lie."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.