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N.H. man gets 15-30 years for ’97 rape

(Jim Cole/Associated Press)
By Lynne Tuohy
Associated Press / September 7, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H. - A New Hampshire man convicted of raping and impregnating a 15-year-old church member, who was made to apologize to her fellow members, was sentenced yesterday to 15 to 30 years in prison.

Ernest Willis of Gilford, 52, robbed the girl of her childhood, the judge said in sentencing Willis, who had admitted to having sex with the teenager and his children’s babysitter in 1997 but claimed it was consensual.

Both Willis and the girl belonged to the fundamentalist Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, but when she became pregnant, she was made to apologize to the congregation. The church’s pastor then helped send the girl - with her mother’s consent - to live with a Colorado couple she did not know and put her baby up for adoption. Police did not locate the victim until last year.

Yesterday, the victim, now 29, listened to the sentencing via telephone from her Arizona home.

Before his trial in May, Willis pleaded guilty to one count of statutory rape. A jury then convicted him of forcibly raping the girl twice in 1997.

Concord police had shelved the case when they could not locate the victim. But a former church member who witnessed the girl’s discipline session later described it on the Internet, and the investigation was revived last year when police learned of her whereabouts.

Willis, a divorced father of four, was arrested in May 2010 and remained free on bail until his May 27 conviction.