N.H. Supreme Court upholds Ernest Willis’s rape convictions

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Jim's picture

On October 7, 1997, C.A., appearing “extremely upset,” confided to a trusted neighbor (and a member of the Church) that she was pregnant. The Church’s pastor, Charles Phelps, and C.A.’s mother were notified. Phelps and his wife, Linda, met with C.A. and her mother that night, and C.A. reported that the defendant was the father of the child. The next day, Phelps met privately with the defendant, who acknowledged his relationship with C.A. Phelps reported this information to the police, after informing the defendant that he would do so, and reported it to the New Hampshire Division for Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) as well. Phelps and Linda met later that evening with the defendant and his wife.

For reasons disputed at trial, the police investigation stalled in 1997. It was reopened in 2010, when Detective Chris DeAngelis learned of the 1997 events and telephoned C.A. to investigate. He continued his investigation by speaking with Phelps, as well as the current pastor and Church members. In May 2010, he and Detective Sean Ford conducted an audio-recorded interview with the defendant.

There is a major Religious Privilege section as well: (starts)

The defendant first argues that the court erred by denying his motion to preclude the testimony of his pastor, Phelps, about two conversations. One conversation was solely between the defendant and Phelps, during which the defendant told Phelps that he had been sexually involved with C.A. on two occasions (the “twice” statement). The other conversation included the defendant’s wife and Phelps’s wife, during which the defendant described his role in his relationship with C.A. as that of the “aggressor” (the “aggressor” statement). Before trial, following argument and voir dire of Phelps, the trial court ruled that the religious privilege under New Hampshire Rule of Evidence 505 did not protect either statement and denied the defendant’s motion in limine to exclude them

Jay's picture

I REALLY don't want to reopen this can of worms again, but I think the big issue was why three years were allowed to lapse between the assault and the arrest, and who bears the responsibility between police, church and family.  I don't think that there is anyone who legitimately denies that Pastor Phelps approached the police (and I don't think they have any evidence to even make that charge).

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jim's picture

It's in dispute: "For reasons disputed at trial, the police investigation stalled in 1997."

But it is clear that the report was made to the police promptly.

Phelps critics blame him for (among other things) shipping her off to Colorado BUT (and this should be obvious to all) the NH police could have easily pursued the case across state lines.



Dan Frank's picture

I have been a critic of Phelps, and I blame him for not pastoring the family and defendant correctly through this.   Tina was his responsibility as well as Willis.  He knew that Willis had acted aggressively toward a minor, enough to have approached the police in the first place, yet never followed up on it.  If he had just wrung his hands and felt that he didn't have any authority/responsibility, that would be different.  Still shameful, but different.  But he did do things -- he shepherded.  But his shepherding basically resulted in the victim having her life completely uprooted while the offender got to go on with his WITHOUT the consequences his behavior demanded. 

But I do not wish Phelps bad things.  What I wish is that he would acknowledge that he made mistakes and sincerely apologize to Tina for the unintended (I hope) consequences in her life for the mistakes he made. 

Dan Frank's picture

If he'd ever acknowledge the mistakes he made and their consequences in Tina's life, he could offer so much to the next generation of fundamentalist pastors.  But all I have read of his public comments (and private comments relayed by surrogates to vindicate him) is basically that Tina was worse than most understand. That response sickens me and seems so far from what is honoring to God. 

Mike Harding's picture



Chuck and Linda just tragically lost their 25 year-old son, daughter-in-law, and grand child.  Since all this has been previously hashed out to the nth degree, let's give them a reprieve on this thread.

Pastor Mike Harding

Jay's picture

I agree with Mike.  Leave the re-re-re-re-re-re-re-hashing in the other threads.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Dan Frank's picture

I didn't bring this up on Sharper Iron.  Do NOT blame me for my comments on a thread that you guys opened with a reference you put to his name. 

My heart aches for his family.  I still believe that repentance based on the mishandling of the situation all those years ago would bless him and his family, even in the midst of suffering and crisis. 

Shaynus's picture

There's one kind of critique of Chuck Phelps handling of this sequence of events that desires to learn from it, and there is another that tries to make obtuse points about fundamentalists. Without rehashing, Dr. Phelps could have done better, but let's learn from the incident. Also let's all come around him in prayer. There is a time and place for learning hard lessons. This isn't one of them. My own father did the graveside service for his son, wife and child a few weeks ago. I can't think of anything more inappropriate to open this up at this time (thank you, US Court System). 

Aaron Blumer's picture


It was important to note what is hopefully the final chapter in the case.

The "US Court System" cannot hold up cases based on unrelated family tragedies among witnesses in a case.

It seems unlikely though, that there is anything left to profitably discuss on the topic. 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.