Thursday, May 26, 2011

An Update on the trial of Ernest Willis (regarding the charges of sexual assault of Tina Anderson)

 At the time of this posting, Ernest Willis awaits day four of his trial for aggravated sexual assault of Tina Anderson, though he has plead guilty on one count of statutory rape which he claims was consensual. A local TV station in New Hampshire, WMUR's News 9, continues their close coverage of the events in the Merrimack County Superior Court of Concord, NH.

Judge Larry Smuckler will decide today whether the prosecution will be permitted to continue to pursue aggravated assault charges. It appears, at the time of this post, that the trial regarding aggravated assault will continue. Link HERE to follow WMUR's live blogging today.

The start of the trial was delayed today (26May11) while the judge decided whether Anderson's testimony regarding Willis' offer to take Anderson out-of-state for an abortion and to punch her to induce a miscarriage has been admitted and will be presented to the jury, overriding the previous decision to exclude this testimony.


When Tina (Dooley) Anderson was a child, her step-father (Daniel Leaf) went to prison twice: once in 1989 for beating her and her brother and once for molesting another minor (serving 7 years). Her own sexual abuse from ages 9 to 11 by her step-father between his prison sentences went unreported until Anderson claims to have reported the event to her pastor, Chuck Phelps. She claims that Phelps counseled her to forgive her step-father and accompanied her (as a young girl) to the prison, requiring her to tell her step-father that she forgave him. Anderson claims that Phelps taught her at that time that that she should not pursue the matter as a reportable crime, but that her forgiveness was critical and all that was necessary. (In court on May 24th, Phelps denied any knowledge of this report and denied giving Anderson such counsel.)

When Ernest Wills, a 39 year old usher at Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, allegedly raped then 15 year old Anderson on two occasions, Anderson did not report the event, believing that the only action that should be taken was her forgiveness of her abuser. (On May 25th, Willis claims that there was one event of petting and only one act of consensual sex.)When Anderson became pregnant, Willis reported his actions to Pastor Phelps who Anderson claims arranged for her to stay with a family Phelps knew in Colorado where she delivered the baby for whom she was permitted to choose adoptive parents.
Anderson contended to stay with her grandparents instead of staying in Colorado where she was well treated but restricted from much interaction outside of the home. 

Note that Phelps reported the incident to authorities, but it was not pursued because Anderson's mother denied the police access to her daughter at the time of the discovery of the event because she was not persuaded that her daughter had been raped. The mother noted that Anderson had no boyfriends and did not date during her court testimony, however.

Willis paid for the airfare for Anderson to travel to Colorado and acknowledged that he had fathered Anderson's child. Prior to Anderson's departure, though he required both Willis and Anderson to stand before the church to confess to promiscuity and repent before the church congregation in a public discipline process, Phelps concealed that it was Willis who had violated Anderson, a minor. Phelps reportedly called them “entirely different” matters during the public session. Willis remained a member of that congregation for many years after the event and his access to young women in the church remained unchecked without others knowing that he'd violated a 15 year old. Multiple times and in many venues, Phelps has classified the relationship between Willis and Anderson as a consensual relationship.

For additional details (some of which were not permitted to be introduced during the trial), refer to the 20/20 Episode, Shattered Faith, which aired on April 8, 2011. There is also a narrative on the 20/20 website.

Update on the Court Proceedings (as of 26May11 12 Noon)

In a video that features testimony of Willis on May 25th, reporter Amy Coveno states that Judge Larry Smuckler may insist that the the assault charge be dropped. The Judge is currently considering whether the evidence presented concerning testimony of Anderson's protests to Willis meet the legal standard of refusal of Willis' sexual advances.

Any future dismissal of the charges does not mean that a sexual assault did not occur; it only means that there is insufficient evidence available at this late date to prove forensically whether an aggravated assault did occur. Whether there were issues related to trauma that may have interfered with how Anderson responded to the event or to the beliefs held by Anderson for being blamed which discouraged her from reporting the event; and because mother Christina Leaf prevented the police from gaining access to Anderson after the event was reported by Phelps, the actual assault charges are difficult to prove without any physical evidence of notable harm at the time.

If Judge Smuckler does decide to drop the charges, Willis will still be sentenced for his confession to statutory rape and faces a maximum sentence of seven years but with no
minimum prison requirement.

Amy Coveno's live daily blogging of the trial can be read at the WMUR website by following these links:
In addition to the aforementioned video of Willis, WMUR has also posted a video that contains some of Anderson's testimony and a clip of Pastor Chuck Phelps (whose testimony on the stand contradicts Willis' confession to only one episode of intercourse with Anderson, noting that his documentation at the time of the event states that Willis confessed to two encounters with Anderson at that time). In court on the second day of testimony, the defense asked detailed questions concerning a time line of events, though this is quite typical questioning in sexual assault cases. Anderson did not remain in the courtroom during Phelps' testimony.

Coveno (the reporter with WMUR who has been covering the trial) noted the very interesting finding in her live blogging on Day 2 of the proceedings that the IFB attorney, David Gibbs III, sat at the bench with the prosecution and Anderson. Curious.

According to the live blogging report, also on Day 2 of testimony, Christine Leaf (Anderson's estranged mother) stated that:
Pastor Phelps had no authority to tell Tina to go to the prison to forgive Daniel Leaf [Anderson's abusive stepfather] because DCYF [NH's Child Protective Agency] was in my life.”

This seems to confirm Anderson's testimony regarding the compelled offering of forgiveness that Phelps allegedly required of her, something he would deny on the stand later that day, stating on Day 2 that he had no knowledge of any molestation of Anderson prior to the incident with Ernest Willis years later. Amy Corvino notes on Day 2 that “Tina Anderson is shaking her head and crying as Pastor Phelps denies on the stand that Tina ever told him about being physically and sexually abused by Dan Leaf.”

He denies the possibility that he may have forgotten that Anderson told him of her molestation, stating that in thirty years, he's never forgotten any child who has come to him regarding reports of abuse. Phelps states in response to this line of questioning per the live blogging:
I never told Tina to go to prison to see her step-father. Forgive and forget is so contrary to my training and my philosophy, I teach confront.”

Amy Corvino notes on Phelps states on Day 3 of testimony:
The Bible says if someone comes to you and says will you forgive, than you will forgive them. 'Forgive and Forget' is a philosophy that is contrary to everything I know. I never said forgive and forget.”

Phelps also read the letters of confession that he required Willis and Anderson to read to the congregation of the church in the 1997 church discipline session. From the statement that Tina Dooley [Anderson] was required to read, the live blogging notes this statement, claiming that Anderson “crafted” the letter herself and knew that it was intended to be presented publicly:
It's with a heavy heart that I come before you to seek your forgiveness as I have already asked forgiveness of the Lord, that in the past couple of months I have been in compromising situations..."

Tina has stated that she was terrified when Phelps read Deuteronomy Chapter 22 to her when he met with her regarding the incident which includes a description of the punishment of death by stoning for fornication. She has stated that this was quite difficult and threatening to her at the time. Phelps responds as noted per the live blogging report:
I read to Tina from Deuteronomy 22. The passage is about a maiden in a field and she is accosted by a man, the maiden screamed and no one was there to help her. Then the passage refers to a maiden in a city who is accosted by a man, she didn't scream. There is the appearance of complicity...We are in a city we want to hear you and help you...I was reading this passage to a 16 year old girl who had not been truthful with me but I did not imply that she would be stoned. That's a ridiculous application.”

This is consistent with the “strange woman” teachings of Ron Williams of the IFB's Hephzibah House, of many pastors within the IFB group, and of the teachings of Bill Gothard who maintain that women who are threatened with rape and do not “cry out” effectively are culpable in their own assault. Phelps goes on to state that because both parties met on or around Anderson's 16th birthday at the Bedford Village Inn for dinner that he believed the relationship was consensual.

Willis gave testimony on Day 3. Prior to taking the stand, an audio tape of Willis' police interrogation was played for the jury after it was admitted as evidence. The defense contested its inclusion because detectives state that they believe Anderson's testimony. The judge instructs the jury to take into consideration that the detectives' statements do not constitute reliable evidence concerning guilt or innocence of Willis. Willis then takes the stand. A the aforementioned video clip featuring part of his testimony appears HERE.

Anderson alleges that the first sexual encounter with Willis took place in his car during driving lessons. Willis is sworn in and testifies that he did not have intercourse with Anderson at that time, but that he did initiate inappropriate sexual touching of Anderson in his car. Anderson states that when Willis accosted her the second time at her home, the encounter took place in her living room. Willis claimed in his testimony that when at Anderson's home, he asked Anderson if she wanted to have sex, and she willingly consented. He testifies that she lead him into her bedroom, they both removed their clothing, and they then proceeded to have sex in her bed. Willis claims that this is the only time that they had intercourse.

He also testifies regarding the meeting at the Bedford Village Inn on her 16th birthday to celebrate this important day for her. (This testimony appears on the video.) Near the end of the testimony, Willis speaks more explicitly of how he approached Anderson, notes that she appeared to enjoy their encounter which indicated to him that it was consensual, and states that she gave no verbal or physical indications that she protested the encounter.

Willis was found guilty.

Addendum 8Mar13:

Read more at Willis Gets 15 to 30 for Rape.

And Tina's Stepfather has since been indicted on two counts of felonious sexual assault against Tina.  Read more at Chuckles Travels and in the Concord Monitor.

When she testified last year to being raped and impregnated as a teenager in 1997 by a married man who attended her Concord church, Tina Anderson told jurors she also had been sexually assaulted by her stepfather years earlier. 

Anderson said at trial that her mother and her pastor at Trinity Baptist told her to forgive her stepfather, Daniel Leaf, for the abuse, and he never faced charges in connection with her allegations. 

That changed last week, when a Merrimack County grand jury handed down two aggravated felonious sexual assault indictments charging Leaf with assaulting Anderson between 1990 and 1992, starting when she was 10 years old.