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Supreme Court upholds rape conviction, rejects religious privilege argument

Ernest Willis talks to his lawyers after being sentenced to 15-30 years for raping and impregnating his teenaged babysitter, Tina Anderson, in 1997; Thursday, September 6, 2011. Willis and Anderson both attended Trinity Baptist church in Concord.

(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor Staff)

Ernest Willis talks to his lawyers after being sentenced to 15-30 years for raping and impregnating his teenaged babysitter, Tina Anderson, in 1997; Thursday, September 6, 2011. Willis and Anderson both attended Trinity Baptist church in Concord. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor Staff)

By ANNMARIE TIMMINS Monitor staff
Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The state Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the rape and sexual assault convictions against Ernest Willis who is serving a 15-to-30 year prison sentence for forcibly raping his teenage babysitter twice, whom he knew through Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, in 1997.

The court issued its ruling this morning.

The girl, who became pregnant, was later made to stand before their congregation to apologize by then-pastor Chuck Phelps. A Merrimack County jury convicted Ellis of three counts of rape and one count of felonious sexual assault in 2011.

Willis’s attorneys appealed the conviction on several grounds, including the admission of testimony from Phelps, who told jurors Willis had confessed to twice having sexual contact with the 15-year-old girl and described himself as the “aggressor.”

In their appeal, attorneys for Willis asked the Supreme Court justices to decide whether the trial court erred in deciding that conversations between Willis and his Phelps weren’t protected by religious privilege.

Willis’s attorneys also asked the high court to consider whether other evidence should have been admitted during the trial, including testimony that Willis invoked his right to an attorney in 1997 and did not at that time give a statement to the police.

(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, atimmins@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)