CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire’s highest court on Wednesday rejected a new trial for a man convicted of raping and impregnating a 15-year-old member of his church, a case that gained national attention because she said the church’s pastor made her apologize to the congregation.
Ernest Willis was convicted in May 2011 of raping the girl in 1997. His lawyer argued that statements he made to the pastor of the fundamentalist Trinity Baptist Church should not have been used against him. But prosecutors countered that Willis’ statements were not protected by religious privilege because they involved the sexual abuse of a child.
Willis’ public defender, Christopher Johnson, said he had no comment on the unanimous ruling by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
Jurors at Willis’ trial heard testimony by former Trinity Baptist Church pastor Charles Phelps that Willis told him that he was “the aggressor” and that there were two instances of sexual assault — one during driving lessons he was giving the girl, Tina Anderson — and again at her apartment a month later. The Associated Press does not typically identify victims of sexual assault, but Anderson wanted her name publicized to highlight church abuse.
The justices noted that all 50 states have laws protecting the confidence of clergy-parishioner communications, but New Hampshire is one of six states that revokes that privilege in its child abuse reporting statutes.
“Whether the communication is a ‘confidence’ within the meaning of the religious privilege depends upon the objectively reasonable expectations of the communicant, under the totality of the circumstances,” Justice Carol Ann Conboy wrote.
Willis maintained at trial that the sexual intercourse was consensual and happened only once. Before trial, he pleaded guilty to statutory rape, based on the girl’s age. He is serving 15 to 30 years in prison.
Phelps helped Anderson move to Colorado to have the baby and put the infant up for adoption. She says he also made her apologize to the New Hampshire congregation. The pastor reported the sexual assaults to police and the Division of Children, Youth and Families, as required by state law, and at trial disputed that he required Anderson to apologize.
Phelps said Wednesday there is often tension between religious privilege and the obligation to report criminal behavior, but the New Hampshire law worked to ensure justice.
“The trial judge fulfilled his responsibility in ruling that information shared in private should be part of the case against Ernest Willis, and the information helped lead to a conviction,” Phelps said in a statement. He also lamented that police did not act promptly on his child abuse report.
Concord police say they were forced to shelve the case when they couldn’t locate the girl to interview her. They finally learned her married name from websites critical of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement and reached her in Arizona, where she now lives.
Phelps is now senior pastor at Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis.
The court on Wednesday also rejected Willis’ claims that jurors should not have heard portions of a police interview with him in May 2010, in which a detective stated that Anderson had no reason to lie in her version of events. The court ruled there is a difference between a police officer giving an opinion while testifying at trial and offering an opinion during an interrogation.
It ruled that it was a mistake for the trial court to permit jurors to hear that portion of the police interview, which referenced an anonymous report to child welfare officials about the sexual assaults, but said the judge’s instruction to the jury to not accept the statements as true rendered the error harmless.
Also On Black America Web:
This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (10/15-10/21)
31 photos Launch gallery
1. Just a NY girl with BIG dreams....
1 of 31
2. HAPPY CHILDREN=QUALITY PARENTING. We don't always see eye to eye on everything and that's normal. We're human beings. But we come together and do it right for what's important, the kids. We are not enemies, we are parents. And we are parents 1st. S/O to @monyettashaw for making Mason's bday memorable. S/O to @itscrystalsmith at home taking care of our other lil' Prince. ❤️❤️❤️ THIS IS WHAT CO-PARENTING LOOKS LIKE. #Blessed #Happy #AboveTheDrama #BiggerThanUs
2 of 31
3. So happy to finally be able to share with you all that I’m the new Global Brand Ambassador for @Revlon! Follow my day on RevlonSnaps. Yay! Choose Love, Everybody! #RevlonXCiara #chooselove #ad
3 of 31
4. Glam on point!!!@makeupbymotoko & @shaylinjoneshair #easybreezy @lifetimetv #beachesmovie #january2017 😘
4 of 31
5. ✨True love ✨📸: @jessiemarrerophotography
5 of 31
6 of 31
7. Today was not easy..but by the grace of God we all got through it. Words cannot express our gratitude for all of your Prayers, Positive thoughts and Support for us throughout the years. Tommy will be missed but most certainly never forgotten...And PLEASE don't ask "Where's Martin?.." he was there too...just not in this picture. Lol! God bless you all.. #LoveConquersAll #MartinShow
7 of 31
8 of 31
9. West coast get ready for #RockyHorror. I will be live tweeting again. #letsdothetimewarpagain
9 of 31
10. #THEKEYS pre order yours now ... Available everywhere #NOV22 #WeTheBest 🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑
10 of 31
11. We about to ROCK at #KCABlackBall!! All for our life-changing effort to end 🌎 AIDS.
11 of 31
12. Today's #SNAPJACK is brought to you by @yazzthegreatest 😂😂😂💋💋💋
12 of 31
13. Damn girl you kinda old to be headed to the Go Go. You coming in at the age they leaving. LMAO
13 of 31
14. Daddy daycare B-Boxin with @acewellstucker @shopraisingace
14 of 31
15. #FBF Naviyd & URV "LIL MONSTERS"
15 of 31
16. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ONE OF THE BIGGEST LEGENDS IN OUR HIPHOP HISTORY! @snoopdogg CONTINUED BLESSING AND LOVE FAMILY!!!!! REAL OG!
16 of 31
17. Thank you for a beautiful night VSU! Let's do it again! #HOMECOMING
17 of 31
18. Had a great time this morning with my familia Erica, Griff & Truth!!
18 of 31
19. Check out my interview on @essence facebook live. #inmyownwords #nycpromo #day2
19 of 31
20. #She💋 #tbt #TheCoveAtTheAtlantis #DawgPawsAndAll
20 of 31
21. Bae #retailtherapy
21 of 31
22. Why me and @coryhardrict got the same pose... and notee... new mouth #naked
22 of 31
23. When my husband is my personal 'hype-man'! it kills me every time! 💜😂 #WHATNOW #lostfiles📷
23 of 31
24. Diggy Simmons
24 of 31
25. Hand full of @jacquieaiche 💙💎💍 @esnail_la 💅🏾
25 of 31
26. SuperSoulers! You can watch my interview with Carl Lentz live from my Facebook page, tomorrow at 11a ET| 8a PT. #SuperSoulSunday
26 of 31
27. 💋 .. When the friendship is easy like Sunday morning. ☀️
27 of 31
28. Sunday mornings are the best........... hugs and cuddles with my angel
28 of 31
29. #huggar16 #hellohuggars
29 of 31
30. My gym is everywhere!.. #RnBMoney #TheGeneral 📸: @twelvepastseven
30 of 31
31. Nothing I would rather be doing... Rocko setting up our movie, Romelō working on a puzzle & Laiyah singing and sharing all she's learning at school... I'm so grateful for the joy they've brought into my life ... Praying for peace , joy & love in the home of EVERY family ♥️ #HeadScarfPJSunday LOL 😂
31 of 31