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Church focus of 1997 teen rape case

A New Hampshire man is charged with the 1997 rape of a 15-year-old fellow church member who became pregnant and was relocated to Colorado by her strict religious order.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A New Hampshire man has been charged with the 1997 rape of a 15-year-old fellow church member who became pregnant and was relocated to Colorado by her strict religious order.

The woman, now 28 and living in Arizona, detailed the alleged rapes in a statement to Concord police this spring after friends urged her to come forward.

Police last week arrested Ernest Willis, 51, of Gilford and charged him with two counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault and two counts of felonious sexual assault. At the time of the alleged assaults, he and the girl were members of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, a fundamentalist order.

Willis posted a $100,000 personal recognizance bond and is scheduled to appear in Concord District Court June 16. His arrest was reported Tuesday by the Concord Monitor.

Willis could not be reached for comment Tuesday. The only Willis listed in Gilford said she did not know him.

The alleged victim told police she used to babysit for the Willis children and said Ernest Willis first raped her when he was teaching her how to drive. The second rape occurred several months later at her home, she said.

After she discovered she was pregnant, the girl and her mother met with then-Trinity Baptist Pastor Chuck Phelps. In her statement to police, the girl said Phelps forbade her from returning to school and ordered that she move into the Phelps home until they could arrange her relocation to Colorado to live with a Baptist family.

"I did not want to go to Colorado to live with people who I didn't even know, and I made that very clear to both Phelps and my mother," the woman told police.

Told to remain quiet, she says
Once in Colorado, she was home schooled, not allowed to have contact with anyone her age and instructed never to discuss what happened in New Hampshire, the woman told police.

The woman said the pastor she lived with in Westminster, Colo., permitted her to choose which of the three families he selected would adopt her daughter, who was born in March 1998. She said she did not meet the family until several years after she gave up the baby and chose the child's parents based on answers to surveys she sent to all three.

Phelps, who is now a pastor in Indianapolis, said Tuesday he reported what the teen told him to police and child welfare officials within 24 hours. Phelps would not comment when asked about his role in relocating the teen to a pastor's home in Colorado.

"I called in a report," Phelps said. "I think I've said what I need to say."

Concord Police Lt. Keith Mitchell said Tuesday the investigation is ongoing, and police would not release documents in the case. He said an inability to locate the victim hampered the 1997 investigation.

"We're evaluating whether there is sufficient information for any obstruction (of justice) charges," Mitchell said. "Her location was not disclosed. Without her, honestly, it's very difficult to investigate a case and nearly impossible to prosecute the case."