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Victim testifies to sexual assault

Last modified: 5/24/2011 12:00:00 AM
After she reported being sexually assaulted by her stepfather, Tina Anderson recalls her mother and pastor telling her that "a good Christian forgives and forgets."

So when Anderson was later raped at age 15 by a married man who also went to Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, "I didn't see a reason" to tell anyone, she said. "I thought that I was doing the right thing."

Anderson had to tell someone when she learned she was pregnant with Ernest Willis's baby - but even then, she said, she didn't tell the full story because she was afraid she'd be blamed by leaders at the Clinton Street church and her mother.

Nearly 14 years later, Anderson told that story to jurors yesterday as she testified against Willis on the first day of his trial in Merrimack County Superior Court.

Willis, who is 52 and lives in Gilford, is charged with forcibly raping Anderson, his former baby sitter, twice in 1997, once in a car while giving her driving lessons and once at her house while she was home alone.

Willis admits to having sex with Anderson on the second of the alleged occasions and pleaded guilty last week to one count of statutory rape, but he maintains the act was consensual.

Anderson, now 29 and living in Arizona, denied yesterday that she ever consented to having sex with Willis. She said Willis raped her the first time by pushing her into the backseat of a car after instructing her to pull over in a dark parking lot somewhere on the Heights.

About a month later, Willis came to her Concord Gardens apartment, locked the door behind him and forced her toward the couch, where Anderson said he again raped her.

On both occasions, Anderson said, Willis performed the act wordlessly, lifting up her dress, which was "loose and long," Anderson said. All of her dresses met church-approved standards, she said, falling at least two inches below the knees and dipping no lower than two fingers below the collarbone.

"We kind of looked like Amish people, is the way to describe it," she said.

The church's teachings on sex were similarly stringent, Anderson said. Church members who were dating "didn't even hold hands," she said. "When people were dating, you weren't supposed to touch. You save everything for marriage."

With those lessons in mind, "I was just afraid" to say anything about what happened with Willis, Anderson said. "I was afraid of what would happen," she said. "I was afraid I wouldn't be believed. I was afraid my life is over, is really what I thought."

In his opening statement, Assistant County Attorney Wayne Coull told jurors "fear, faith and family kept this secret for so long. For too long."

Anderson agreed to be interviewed by the police last year after someone told her story on a Facebook page critical of Independent Fundamental Baptist churches.

While "we're not here to try the church," Coull said, its presence in Anderson's life - she attended the school run by Trinity Baptist and was there six to seven days a week - defined her view of the world and dissuaded her from reporting the rape allegations.

"She was afraid she would be blamed. She was afraid she would be judged," Coull said. "Ultimately, she was."

Anderson testified yesterday that when she told her mother and former Trinity Baptist pastor Chuck Phelps that she was pregnant, "I felt very attacked."

Phelps had Anderson come to his house, where his wife "was asking me question after question, just badgering me," Anderson said.

At one point, she said, Phelps's wife "asked me if I enjoyed it. It made me want to throw up."

After that questioning, Anderson said she was kept in Phelps's home, sequestered in what she said was called "the prophet's chamber."

She was then made to stand before hundreds at a church service and apologize for "allowing a compromising situation to occur." Phelps, she said, told her Willis might be 99 percent responsible but she was "1 percent responsible" for what happened because she let Willis into her home.

"I felt horrible," she said. "For years, I believed it was my fault. Standing up there was completely humiliating."

Anderson said she didn't have a boyfriend and wasn't interested in boys during that period in her life. "I was interested in playing my flute and singing," she said.

But after she became pregnant, she said she had to get tested for HIV and show the results to Willis's wife.

And after Phelps arranged for Anderson to be sent to live with another pastor's family in Colorado, where she had her baby and put it up for adoption, Anderson said she was forced to write a letter to Willis's wife, apologizing for betraying her trust.

One of Willis's public defenders, Donna Brown, said during her opening statement yesterday that Anderson only reported having sex with Willis on one occasion when she told her mother and Phelps what happened.

And when a nurse midwife at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center examined Anderson after she became pregnant, she didn't report being raped, according to the medical records, Brown said.

"The state is going to ask you to trust Tina's 2011 memory as opposed to her 1997 memory," Brown said. But "there are a lot of things she doesn't remember."

Anderson said she told her mother and Phelps that the sex wasn't consensual, contrary to what Phelps has said.

As she answered questions during cross-examination yesterday, Anderson bristled at Brown's probing into how and when she reported the allegations.

Anderson had told the Concord police that she confided in a neighbor that she was pregnant several days after breaking the news to Willis, but yesterday she gave dates that suggested more than a month had elapsed between the two events.

Asked by Brown to clarify the discrepancy, Anderson grew emotional. "Would you remember something you did 14 years ago?" she said.

"I am trying to be completely honest with you, and you are frustrating me greatly," she continued, her voice shaking. "You are not going to remember a timeline exactly when you were 15 years old and you were scared out of your mind. Give me a break."

Anderson said she told Willis she was pregnant while they were at a restaurant in August 1997. Brown asked if that was when Willis took her to the Bedford Village Inn for her 16th birthday, and Anderson said that was possible.

She also said she continued to baby-sit for Willis after she said the first rape happened, and possibly after the second.

"I was trying to be the good Christian I was supposed to be," she said. "Forgive and forget, pretend like it never happened."

Anderson said she no longer has a relationship with her mother, Christine Leaf, who stayed with her husband after he got out of prison for sexually abusing a child and assaulting Anderson's older brother.

Testifying yesterday, Leaf said she didn't support her daughter, "because I only support the truth." She said she supported Phelps, who posted a letter of support from Leaf's lawyer on his website.

As Coull pressed her about the decision to send Anderson to Colorado, Leaf denied that it was Phelps's idea, as Anderson has said.

And while she acknowledged telling the Concord police Anderson didn't want to talk to them, she denied that she'd prevented other family members from learning of Anderson's whereabouts.

"Everybody knew she was pregnant and in Colorado," Leaf said.

Leaf will take the witness stand again this morning. The trial is expected to take four days, and Phelps and Willis are both expected to testify.

(Maddie Hanna can be reached at 369-3321 or mhanna@cmonitor.com.)


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