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'Police: Girl raped, then relocated'

'13 years later, suspect arrested'
Monitor staff
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
After being raped and impregnated by a fellow churchgoer more than twice her age, a 15-
year-old Concord girl was forced by Trinity Baptist Church leaders to stand before the
congregation to apologize before they helped whisk her out of state, according to the police.
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While her pastor, Chuck Phelps, reported the alleged rape in 1997 to state youth officials,
Concord police detectives were never able to find the victim. The victim said she was sent to
another church member's home in Colorado, where she was home-schooled and not allowed
to have contact with others her age. It wasn't until this past February that the victim, who is
now 28, decided to come forward after reading about other similar cases, realizing for the
first time it wasn't her fault that she had been raped, she told the police.
The police arrested Ernest Willis, 51, of Gilford, last week in connection with the case,
accusing him of raping the girl twice - once in the back seat of a car he was teaching her to
drive in and again after showing up at her Concord home while her parents were away. He
was charged with four felonies - two counts of rape and two counts of having sex with a
minor, court records show.
In a statement to the police, the victim said Willis came to her home in the summer of 1997
without warning.
'He said he wanted to talk to me about something so I let him in the house,' she wrote. 'He
locked the door behind him and pushed me over to the couch. I had a dress on and he pulled
it off. I pushed my hands against his shoulders and said 'No,' but he didn't stop.'
At the time of the alleged rape, Phelps was
in touch with the police, who told him to
contact the Division for Children, Youth
and Families.
But moving the girl out of state prevented
the police from collecting evidence or a
statement, the police said yesterday.
'Without a victim, it makes it very difficult
to have a case,' said Lt. Keith Mitchell. 'That
basically made the investigation very
At the time, Willis also refused to give a
statement, police records show.
So for 13 years, a file on the case sat closed and marked 'unresolved' at the Concord police
Police records do not show whether detectives asked church leaders to help them get in
contact with the victim or if information was withheld.
'If somebody tried to cover this up or not cover this up, that's a separate issue,' Mitchell said.
Phelps did not return a message seeking comment yesterday. He no longer works at the
'The leadership of Trinity Baptist Church reported this alleged crime within 24 hours of
hearing the accusations on Oct. 8, 1997,' said spokesman Peter Flint from a prepared
statement. 'We continue in our commitment to cooperate with authorities so that justice is
'Completely in shock'
The victim said she came forward after getting in touch with Jocelyn Zichterman, who runs an
online group for victims of church abuse.
In a seven-page statement to the police, the victim recounted the moments leading up to her
departure from New Hampshire.
At 14, she began babysitting for Willis, a well-known member of the church. She told the
police she would often stay the night if he got home late.
Just over a year later, he offered to give her driving lessons. While in the parking lot of a
Concord business, Willis asked her to pull over to switch seats, she told the police.
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But instead he pulled her into the backseat
and raped her, according to a statement to
the police.
In the summer of 1997, Willis raped her
again, this time while at her home while
her mother was out, according to police
'I was completely in shock, but too scared
to go and tell anyone because I thought I
would get blamed for what happened,' she
Over the next few months, the girl became
suspicious she was pregnant. She called
Willis, who brought over a pregnancy test
that came up positive, she told the police.
'He asked me if I wanted him to take me to
a neighboring state where underage
abortions were legal . . . and he would pay
for an abortion,' she told the police. 'He
then asked me if I wanted him to punch
me in the stomach as hard as he could
because that might cause a miscarriage.'
She declined both.
'Church discipline'
The victim told her mother about the
pregnancy. Soon after, Phelps was also alerted.
The victim said Phelps told her she would be put up for 'church discipline,' where parishioners
go before the congregation to apologize for their sins.
She asked why. 'Pastor Phelps then said that (Willis) may have been 99 percent responsible,
but I needed to confess my 1 percent guilt in the situation,' the victim told the police.
'He told me that I should be happy that I didn't live in Old Testament times because I would
have been stoned.'
Fran Earle, the church's former clerk, witnessed the punishment session.
At a night meeting of the church's fellowship in 1997, Phelps invited Willis to the front of the
room. Willis apologized to the group for not being faithful to his wife, Earle said.
'I can remember saying to my husband, I don't understand it's any of our business why this is
being brought up,' Earle said.
Phelps then told parishioners a second matter was at hand; he invited the victim to apologize
for getting pregnant.
'I can still see the little girl standing up there with this smile on her face trying to get through
this,' Earle said.
A day after the session, Earle called the pastor's wife, who said the victim had decided not to
press charges for statutory rape.
'You've got to understand, we trusted our pastor and his wife to be telling us the truth,' Earle
said. 'They told us it had been reported. He reported it as a consensual act between a man and
a woman. Well, I didn't know a 15-year-old was a woman.'
Earle, who left the church in 2001 after 19 years, said it was regular to see young girls who
were pregnant called to the front of the congregation to be humiliated.
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Rob Sims, another former member, said the discipline sessions were formulaic - Phelps would
read Bible verses, give a limited overview of what happened and then each person would
read a statement.
'(The) statement agreed that they had done wrong and why they 'now believed' that they had
sinned,' he said. 'Then Pastor Phelps would give a few closing remarks and then a vote would
be taken to remove the guilty party from membership or to keep them in membership but
under discipline, or something to that effect.'
The police said the victim's family asked for her to be moved to Colorado.
'I think that she clearly did not want to go to Colorado, and I'm quite sure she expressed that
to the church, her mother and the pastor,' said Concord police Detective Chris DeAngelis.
'However, she was a juvenile. Her mom requests assistance and that was what they came up
Mitchell said the police are looking at pressing other charges.
Willis was released on $100,000 personal recognizance bail. He faces an arraignment June 16
in Concord District Court.
Trent Spiner can be reached at 369-3306 or
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