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Alleged victim testifies in rape trial of fellow church member

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 23. 2011 10:37PM

CONCORD - Former Concord resident Tina Anderson testified Monday that a fellow Trinity Baptist Church member forcibly raped her as a teen in 1997, then church leaders exiled her to Colorado to have her baby and give the child up for adoption while living under the watchful care of another church family.

Now a married mother of three and living in Arizona, Anderson said she was 15 when she was raped and impregnated by Ernest P. Willis, then a 39-year-old wealthy and respected married church member whose children she baby sat. She said she first told no one of the rape because she feared how her mother and church leaders would react.

'I was afraid what was going to happen. I was afraid I wasn't going to be believed. I was afraid that my life was over,' Anderson, 29, told Merrimack County Superior Court jurors on the first day of trial.

Willis, 52, of Gilford, faces three alternative counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault - or forcible rape - and one count of felonious sexual assault. Willis pleaded not guilty to the four charges.

The defense admitted Willis raped Anderson once at her Concord home, but said the sex with the underaged girl was consensual. Willis pleaded guilty last week to one count of felonious sexual assault. He will be sentenced on that conviction at trial's end.

Public defender Donna Brown said statements Anderson initially made in 1997 to Trinity Baptist Church pastor Chuck Phelps and her mother, Christine Leaf, differ from what she told Concord police when they contacted her in 2010.

'Ernie Willis is guilty of exactly what Tina told pastor Phelps and her mother in 1997: That he had sex with her one time and no force was involved,' Brown said in opening statements. Willis will take the stand in his defense.

But Assistant County Attorney Wayne Coull said the alleged rapes occurred more than once and were forcible.

'Force and frequency, that is what this trial is about,' Coull said.

'Also fear, faith and family kept this secret for so long, for too long,' Coull added.

Anderson took the stand for about two hours where she testified Willis first raped her while teaching her to drive.

'I blocked out a lot of those memories,' she said. 'I believe I said ... 'Stop' but I don't remember a lot of what happened,' she said.

Anderson said she didn't' tell anyone.

'I didn't think it would do any good,' she said, noting a year earlier she had told her mother and pastor Phelps that her stepfather, Daniel Leaf, sexually molested her. 'They told me a good Christian forgives and forgets and doesn't press charges. So I thought I was doing the right thing.'

She said her stepfather was in prison for sexually assaulting another child at the time of her rape.

Anderson said Willis raped her a second time when he came to her Concord Gardens apartment when no one was home.

When she learned she was pregnant, Anderson said she confided in a trusted neighbor, who contacted her mother and Phelps. The next day, Anderson said she was taken to Phelps' home where he and his wife, Linda, questioned her.

'Linda was asking me question after question and just badgering me. At one point, she asked me if I enjoyed it,' Anderson said.

Anderson admitted she initially said Willis raped her once because she was afraid no one would believe her if she said it happened twice.

Soon after, Anderson said Phelps made her stand in front of the hundreds of church members to apologize for becoming pregnant.

'He said even though Ernie may have been 99 percent responsible, you were still 1 percent responsible to even allow a compromising situation to occur,' she said. Willis also apologized that night for being unfaithful to his wife, but Phelps told the assembly they were 'two completely different situations,' Anderson said.

Anderson said she was expelled from school, forced to live briefly with the Phelps, and then sent against her will to Colorado to live with a couple she never met.

Under cross-examination by Brown, Anderson admitted she continued to take driving lessons from Willis and baby sit for his children after the first alleged rape. She also said she told Willis she believed she was pregnant at a restaurant - possibly the Bedford Village Inn in Bedford - sometime around her 16th birthday on Aug. 22, 1997.

When Brown pressed her to recall certain dates, Anderson became defensive and combative.

'It's been 14 years … Give me a break. What do you want from me?' she asked.

'I could have been mistaken … yes. But it doesn't mean I was lying. That's what you're insinuating,' she added.

Later, Anderson's mother took the stand and claimed that she, not Phelps, decided to send her pregnant daughter away to live with a family they didn't know. She acknowledged, however, that Phelps knew and recommended the couple.

'I wanted what was best for her,' said Leaf, 50, a former Trinity Baptist Church member who now lives in Tilton. 'I needed her to be well taken care of in a way that I could not do.'

Leaf said she supported Phelps and 'sometimes' supports her husband, who also served prison time for second-degree assault for abusing her son. But when the prosecutor asked her if she supported her daughter, Leaf replied: 'I only support the truth and not a lie.'

Anderson sat in the first row of the courtroom and wept during much of her mother's testimony. Comforting her was Jocelyn Zichterman, who set up the 'Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Cult Survivors' Facebook page in 2006. She said the site now draws more than 3,000 abuse survivors, about 25 of whom were in court to support Anderson.

Leaf returns to the witness stand today. Phelps has been subpoenaed and also is expected to testify.

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