Concord Monitor - New Hampshire May 28, 2011
Willis guilty of rape
Former church member convicted
By Maddie Hanna / Monitor staff
Nearly 14 years after he impregnated a teenage member of his Concord church, Ernest Willis was found guilty yesterday of forcibly raping her, despite his argument that the sex was consensual.
Willis, 52, of Gilford, was found guilty of three counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and one count of felonious sexual assault for raping Tina Anderson twice in 1997, when she was his 15-year-old babysitter. The Merrimack County jury took a day to deliberate following four days of trial, filing into the courtroom late yesterday afternoon just as bailiffs prepared to send the crowd home for the weekend.
As a court clerk polled the six men and six women of the jury, each declared Willis guilty. Anderson, sitting in the front row, sunk into the arms of a supporter, her brother holding the two of them.
Earlier in the afternoon, Anderson read a victim impact statement in the courtroom. "When he decided his sexual gratification was the most important thing in his life, he shattered mine," she said.
After becoming pregnant at age 15, Anderson was brought before the congregation at Trinity Baptist Church, asking for forgiveness in front of hundreds at a Sunday night service.
Her pastor helped arrange for her to be sent to Colorado, where she had her baby and gave it up for adoption. The police said they were unable to find Anderson and closed the investigation.
But they resumed the effort last year, after a former Trinity member wrote about Anderson's story on a Facebook page. Tracked down by Concord Detective Chris DeAngelis, Anderson, now 29 and living in Arizona, agreed to speak to the police, and Willis was arrested in August.
He was led out of the courtroom yesterday in handcuffs, shepherded into a van that would take him to the Merrimack County jail, where he will await sentencing. He faces a maximum of 54 years in prison.
Willis's attorneys said during trial that they would file a motion to set aside a verdict finding him guilty of raping Anderson in a car while giving her a driving lesson.
Willis, who admits to having sex with Anderson in her home and pleaded guilty just before the trial to one count of statutory rape, testified that he touched Anderson sexually during one driving lesson.
But he said he did not have sex with her until after a subsequent driving lesson, when he asked her "if she would like to join me in sexual intercourse."
Anderson, he testified, "replied yes."
Assistant County Attorney Wayne Coull pressed Willis on that version of events and later told jurors it wasn't credible to believe that Anderson, brought up in a church where children didn't hold hands, had indicated to Willis that she wanted to have sex with him.
But Willis's public defender, Donna Brown, questioned the credibility of Anderson's account, which included conflicting statements about going to dinner with Willis on her 16th birthday at the Bedford Village Inn, two months after she said Willis forcibly raped her.
Brown said Anderson had changed her story to "look more like a victim" because she didn't receive the treatment she deserved after she became pregnant in 1997.
But Coull said Anderson never shared the full story with her mother and pastor, who Anderson said told her that "good Christians forgive and forget" when she reported being abused by her stepfather.
And when she reported her pregnancy, Coull said, she was "shamed, shunned, and silenced. Shipped away."
Yesterday, dozens of supporters surrounded her outside the courthouse, holding posters depicting Jesus beside a 16-year-old Anderson and the baby she gave up for adoption.
"Tina Anderson is a hero today," said Jocelyn Zichterman, an advocate for abuse victims within Independent Fundamental Baptist churches who encouraged Anderson to come forward with her story last year.
"We hope Tina can now move on with her life and find a sense of peace," Zichterman said, delivering the brief statement on Anderson's behalf. She hugged Anderson and escorted her away from the group of supporters, some of whom stayed to watch and take pictures as bailiffs led Willis into the sheriff's van.
Willis won't be sentenced until a hearing at a later date. His attorneys said he would wait to address the court until his sentencing.
Concord Monitor - New Hampshire May 29, 2011
Rape conviction a win for advocate
By Maddie Hanna / Monitor staff
When jurors found former Trinity Baptist member Ernest Willis guilty Friday afternoon of four counts of rape, it was a victory for Tina Anderson, who was 15 years old when she became pregnant by Willis in 1997, leading their pastor to present her to the congregation to ask for forgiveness.
But it was also a victory for the advocate who has been by Anderson's side throughout the trial: Jocelyn Zichterman. A Portland, Ore., woman who runs a website dedicated to exposing what she calls "Independent Fundamental Baptist abuse," Zichterman shepherded Anderson through the criminal justice system from start to finish - from making the call last year that led the Concord police to reopen their investigation into Anderson's rape to squaring off in front of cameras outside Merrimack County Superior Court Friday afternoon, proclaiming Anderson a hero for her "incredible courage."
Anderson, her eyes shielded by sunglasses, said nothing during that event, getting hugs from Zichterman and other supporters after Zichterman finished making her statement. She escorted Anderson away from the crowd of supporters, who remained in a group, holding posters that read "I support Tina Anderson" and bearing a design of Jesus beside a teenage Anderson and the baby she gave up for adoption.
Throughout the trial, Zichterman was a constant companion to Anderson, seated by her side in the front row of the courtroom during emotional testimony - including that of her estranged mother, who along with Anderson's pastor had arranged for her to be sent to Colorado after she became pregnant.
Zichterman "was really almost like a mother figure in some ways, just giving that support," said Matt Barnhart, a former Trinity Baptist member who took the witness stand during trial and sat in the courtroom for two days of testimony.
Barnhart, who first spoke to Zichterman after he posted about Anderson's case last year on a Facebook page critical of Independent Fundamental Baptist churches, described her as "selfless" in her involvement with Anderson.
"I can see how some might view this as selfish on Jocelyn's part, and it's definitely not," he said yesterday. "It was really out of pure concern for Tina as the victim."
Zichterman didn't respond to messages yesterday seeking comment for this story. Barnhart said she was on her way back to Oregon, where she lives with her husband and eight children.
Growing up in a fundamentalist Baptist congregation, Zichterman says she was molested by family members but pressured by church members to stay silent. She has since devoted herself to advocating against abuse within the church, which she refers to as a "cult." She calls former members "survivors."
It was on a Facebook page for those "Independent Fundamental Baptist cult survivors" that Barnhart posted about Anderson last year. Zichterman, seeing his post, contacted him within minutes, and after Anderson - then 28 and living in Arizona - came upon the page, she contacted Zichterman, who called the Concord police.
While it was Anderson's decision to speak to the police, "it wasn't until she and I started talking that she realized she wasn't guilty for this rape," Zichterman told the Monitor last May, shortly after Willis's arrest.
She quickly took an active role in the case, becoming a conduit for news media requests. During the trial, Anderson described Zichterman as "the family spokesperson."
She appeared with Anderson on a 20/20 special about Independent Fundamental Baptist churches and publicized Anderson's case online; her Freedom From Abuse Network website includes pictures of Zichterman and Anderson taken last year in Arizona and a link to another website called the Tina Anderson Foundation, which tells Anderson's story and has a PayPal account for visitors to donate online.
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