CONCORD, N.H. — A jury was chosen Monday for the trial of a man charged with raping a 15-year-old fellow church member who was forced to stand before the congregation and apologize for getting pregnant.
A hearing on legal issues in the case of 52-year-old Ernest Willis of Gilford was set for Tuesday in Merrimack Superior Court in Concord. Opening statements in his trial were scheduled for May 23.
Willis is charged with forcibly raping Christina Anderson twice during the summer of 1997, when she was his children’s baby sitter and he was 39.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they were victims of sex crimes, but Anderson, now 29, asked that her name be made public.
Willis entered the courtroom without comment Monday, accompanied by his public defenders. His lawyers say in court documents that he’ll admit to having sex with the girl on one occasion but he maintains it was consensual.
Once Anderson realized she was pregnant, she said her mother took her to their then-pastor, Chuck Phelps of Concord’s Trinity Baptist Church, for counseling. Phelps arranged for her to move to Colorado to live with a Baptist family there and place her baby up for adoption. He said he did so at the request of her mother, Christine Leaf. Leaf has declined to comment on whether she sought or consented to her daughter’s relocation.
Concord police officials say they tried to investigate the case but were stymied because they could not locate Anderson. The case remained unsolved until 2010, when online posts and friends of Anderson led police to her in Arizona.
Prosecutor Wayne Coull said he expects Anderson to be among the first witnesses called when the trial begins. Jurors were told to expect the trial to last four days.
Phelps is also on the prosecution’s list of witnesses. Anderson told police that Phelps forced her to write a letter of apology she had to read to the fundamentalist congregation.
Anderson told the AP earlier this month she is nervous about testifying and having her life rehashed publicly, but added, “It needs to be done. Justice needs to be done.”
One motion expected to be argued Tuesday is on defense efforts to bar testimony about Willis’ offer to take Anderson out of state for an abortion and his offer to punch her hard in the stomach to induce a miscarriage. Coull said in court documents that Willis’ “willingness to use violence” is highly relevant “and clearly indicative of guilt.”