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Ernest Willis stands between his attorneys as the jury takes their place on the first day of his trial on charges of raping Tina Anderson in 1997, when she was 15 years old. Alexander Cohn/ Monitor photo 

Accused testifies sexual encounters with 15-year-old were consensual

CONCORD - Ernest P. Willis testified Wednesday that he twice had sexual contact in 1997 with the 15-year-old girl who went to his church and regularly baby-sat his children, but said both encounters were consensual and the girl 'appeared to enjoy it.'

'There was no resistance to my overtures to her,' Willis, 52, of Gilford, testified on the third day of his trial on charges of forcible and statutory rape that resulted in a pregnancy.

'She appeared to enjoy it. She appeared to want it to happen, and there was nothing indicated to me by voice … or by any physical actions or defensiveness on her part at all that she did not want that to occur,' Willis said.

Both Willis and the victim were members of Trinity Baptist Church on Clinton Street.

Willis, who worked as an engineer in 1997 and now is in sales, told a Merrimack County Superior Court jury he knew Tina Anderson was only 15 and legally could not consent to have sex.

'As I look back on it now, I can't fathom what I was thinking; I was driven by emotion, by selfishness,' the divorced father of four said.

He apologized for the harm he caused everyone involved. Willis said he is taking responsibility by admitting to one count of felonious sexual assault, or statutory rape.

But he pleaded not guilty to the remaining charges of three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault - or forcible rape - and one count of felonious sexual assault, or statutory rape. The charges allege alternative theories of the attacks that occurred once at Anderson's Concord apartment and once while Willis was teaching her to drive.

Willis testified he 'inappropriately touched' Anderson in a parking lot while teaching her how to drive. He said he 'touched her knee' and 'brushed her hair' and also touched her vagina, both over and under her clothes. He denied he had sexual intercourse.

He said the second encounter occurred about a month later.

'I asked her if she would like to join me in sexual intercourse, and she replied 'Yes,'' Phelps said.

He said they went into her apartment and to her upstairs bedroom where they both disrobed and had sexual intercourse on her bed.

Willis said he did not see Anderson again until Aug. 22 when he took her out to dinner for her 16th birthday.

'I wanted to take her out for a treat on her birthday,' he said.

Anderson testified she told Willis she thought she was pregnant sometime around her 16th birthday. But Willis said Anderson didn't tell him this until September.

In other matters, Judge Larry Smukler will rule on whether to drop one of the three forcible rape indictments because there may be insufficient evidence to support the charge.

Smukler said he has concerns about the indictment charging aggravated felonious sexual assault in the car because Anderson indicated had difficulties remembering what she said or did to stop the alleged attack.

Anderson testified Monday that 'I believe I said 'no' or 'stop,' but I don't remember a lot of what happened.'

The judge said the remaining two forcible rape charges involving the alleged attack at the home and the statutory rape charge related to the alleged assault in the car will stand.

The six women and eight male jurors also learned a second anonymous report of the alleged rapes was made to the state Division of Child, Youth and Families, which forwarded it to Concord police.

Charles Phelps, who oversaw much of how the rape and pregnancy was handled as senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, said he notified Concord police and DCYF that a married church member had sex with an underage girl the day after he learned of it in early October 1997. Phelps reported the incident as consensual.

In a recorded interview with Willis last May, Concord Police Det. Chris DeAngelis said police received a second anonymous report alleging Willis had sexual intercourse twice with Anderson and both involved force.

In the taped recording played for the jury, Willis denied this, telling the officer he only had sex once with Anderson and it was consensual.

DeAngelis said police closed the case because they were unable to speak with the victim. He said it was reopened last year when police received new information, located Anderson in Arizona and she agreed to cooperate.

Retired Concord Police Det. Paul Gagnon testified he tried to speak with Anderson after receiving the initial report in 1997, but her mother insisted the girl 'did not want to speak with me or the police department.'

Gagnon said he called Phelps after receiving the case, but Phelps never returned his calls.

The state rested its case Wednesday. Willis returns to the witness stand today for cross-examination. The case is expected to go to closing arguments today.

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