Pastor: NH man accused of rape said he pursued sex

By Lynne Tuohy
Associated Press / May 24, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H.—A New Hampshire man accused of raping and impregnating a 15-year-old fellow church member in 1997 told his pastor that he had initiated sexual encounters twice with the girl, the pastor said during the man's trial Tuesday.

Chuck Phelps, then-pastor of Concord's Trinity Baptist Church, testified at the trial of Ernest Willis of Gilford.

Tina Anderson, now 29, has testified that Willis raped her twice that summer, when she was the baby sitter for his children and he was 39. She also said Phelps made her apologize to fellow church members before relocating her to Colorado to live and put her baby up for adoption.

Phelps said in court that he didn't force Anderson to apologize, and that her relocation was never intended to cover up what happened.

"There was no part of this in my mind that ever said, this is how we can get her out of town so Ernie Willis can walk," Phelps said.

Willis, 51, pleaded guilty last week to one count of having sex with Anderson, who was under the legal age of consent at the time. Willis denies having sex with her on more than one occasion and claims the sex was consensual. He is charged with forcible rape, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Phelps began testifying after Merrimack Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler ruled Tuesday that conversations Phelps had with Willis after learning Anderson was pregnant were not protected by pastoral privilege.

"He said that he was the aggressor," Phelps said of Willis' admissions.

Anderson, seated in the front row of the courtroom, wept openly and repeatedly shook her head as Phelps testified. Smukler called a recess and cautioned lawyers about the possibility of a mistrial if Anderson could not control her emotions, one of the lawyers said. Anderson did not return to the courtroom for the rest of the afternoon.

Phelps testified he believed Willis was going to be arrested in 1997, after Phelps told police he knew that a church member having sex with an underage child. But Phelps also said he helped arrange Anderson's relocation to Colorado to live with a Baptist family there and put her baby up for adoption.

Phelps said Concord police never followed up with him and got defensive when asked by prosecutor Wayne Coull whether he notified police that Anderson would be leaving the state. Phelps said he did not.

"I didn't whisk her away," said Phelps. "I've been thrown under the bus on this thing."

Phelps testified that Anderson's apology to the congregation was voluntary and meant to help her secure the congregation's "love and support."

"This was no shunning, if that's where you're going," Phelps said.

But former church members who witnessed it testified Tuesday Anderson appeared terrified and humiliated.

Christine Barnhart had recently joined Trinity Baptist Church in 1997, when Anderson was part of what Barnhart described as "a church discipline session." Barnhart said Anderson was "pale as a ghost, scared to death, a frightened little child."

Barnhart said she was "mortified" by session.

The Associated Press typically doesn't identify those who say they are victims of sexual assault, but Anderson has agreed to have her name published and has been the subject of extensive media coverage because of the circumstances of the case.

Concord police said they could not locate Anderson in 1997 to investigate the rape allegations reported by both Phelps and Anderson's mother, and the case was shelved.

It was Barnhart's husband, Matt, who last year posted information about the church discipline session to a blog dealing with Independent Fundamentalist Baptist "cult survivors." His post ultimately led police to Anderson and Willis was arrested.

Anderson's mother, Christine Leaf, testified Tuesday she did not follow up on her report to the police because she thought they would pursue Willis.

"I was under the impression Mr. Willis was going to turn himself in and admit to having sex with my child," Leaf she said, referring back to 1997. She was asked whether it made her angry that Willis did not do that.

"No, I tend to forget things," Leaf replied.

Leaf testified she did not try to keep her daughter's whereabouts a secret to police or relatives who were trying to reach out to her. But her sister-in-law, Barbara Kingsbury, contradicted that testimony.

Kingsbury said she asked Leaf for Anderson's address so she could write to her and invite her to come live with Kingsbury's family in Boscawen.

"She (Leaf) said no one was allowed to know where she was at," Kingsbury said.

Coull asked Leaf why she didn't bring her daughter to talk with police before the move to Colorado.

"I could not force my daughter to do anything," Leaf replied.

"Except move her from her friends and family to live with strangers in Colorado?" Coull pressed.

"Yes. It was the right thing to do," Leaf replied.

Phelps will resume testifying Wednesday. Willis' lawyers say he also will testify. top stories on Twitter

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