A 52-year-old member of a fundamentalist Baptist church in New Hampshire faces up to 54 years in prison after he was found guilty on Friday of raping his children’s 15-year-old baby sitter, who belonged to the same church, more than a decade ago.
The case involving Ernest Willis of Gilford garnered national attention because Concord’s Trinity Baptist Church which he and Tina Anderson, now 29, attended forced her to apologize to the congregation for the “crime” ofÂ having become pregnant.
Before his trial, Willis pleaded guilty to one count of statutory rape but denied he forcibly raped Anderson twice in 1997. She said it happened once while he was giving her driving lessons and again at her home weeks later. Willis testified that the two had sex on only one occasion and it was consensual.
In her victim impact statement, Anderson said she was devastated when she learned she was pregnant, then heartbroken when she had to put her daughter up for adoption. She also said the rape has had ripple effects on her marriage and the upbringing of her other three children.
The case that lay dormant for well over a decade was resuscitated in large part through the Internet.
Matt Barnhart, a former Trinity Baptist Church member, witnessed Anderson’s “church discipline” session in 1997. His wife testified she was “mortified” by what the church did to the teen.
Barnhart made reference to the session on a blog maintained by a group called Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) cult survivors. The website’s founder, Jocelyn Zichterman of Oregon, managed to locate Anderson, and passed the information along to Concord police, and Willis was arrested.
Zichterman and about two dozen men and women she described as survivors of IFB church abuse, attended the five-day trial, many wearing teal â€” the color embraced by rape victims. She said:
Tina Anderson is a hero today, because of her incredible courage. We hope Tina can now move on with her life and find a sense of peace.