- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 6, 2011

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A New Hampshire man convicted of raping and impregnating a 15-year-old church member more than a decade ago was sentenced Tuesday 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 admitted to having sex in 1997 with the teenager, who also babysat his children, but he claimed it was consensual.

At the time, the fundamentalist Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, which both he and the teenager belonged to, made her apologize to the congregation. The pastor then helped — with the consent of the girl’s mother — send the girl to live with a Colorado couple she didn’t know and put her baby up for adoption. Police did not locate the victim until last year.

Tuesday, the now-29-year-old victim listened to the sentencing via telephone from her Arizona home. During the proceeding, Willis read a statement apologizing to her, his family and the church.

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

Concord police shelved the case in 1997 when they couldn’t 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, the divorced father of four, was arrested in May 2010 and remained free on bail until his May 27 conviction.

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