Toby Willis, father of singing group The Willis Family, pleaded guilty to four counts of child rape on Tuesday (July 11) and will serve 40 years in prison. Willis, his wife and their 12 children, collectively known as The Willis Family came to national attention by competing on Season Nine of America's Got Talent. They starred for two seasons on the TLC reality series The Willis Family, which chronicled the musical and personal adventures of the 14-member group. The show often served as a spotlight for their deeply-held conservative Christian beliefs.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations announced they were investigating Willis in August of 2016 after a sexual encounter he had with an underage girl in Nashville 12 years prior came to light. Subsequent reports revealed the girl in question was a relative who was between the ages of nine and 12 at the time of the rapes.
Willis was arrested in September last year after fleeing Tennessee for Kentucky in an attempt to avoid arrest. He pleaded guilty in Cheatham County, Tenn., on Tuesday (July 11), Nashville's Tennessean newspaper reports. Willis has been sentenced to two 25-year sentences on two counts and two 40-year sentences on the other two. Those sentences will run concurrently and Willis will serve one hundred percent of the sentences, giving the 47-year-old a total of 40 years in prison.
Nevetheless, the family have been known for their conservative Christian beliefs. They don't believe in premarital sex and they don't drink alcohol. Formerly speaking to People, wife Brenda Willis says, "We try to just kind of stay true to what the Bible says and live that in a very loving, nonjudgmental way without pushing that on anyone else."
TLC canceled the show days after the allegations against Willis became public, though the network has claimed that they had made the decision to cancel prior to the charges.
Willis' family released the following statement to The Tennessean:
"The Willis family would like to thank their family, friends and fans for the outpouring of love and support during this most difficult year. Additionally, the Willis family would like to thank the many members of law enforcement for their detailed and comprehensive investigation of this matter. Finally, the family would like to thank the District Attorney's office for their diligence and sensitivity in the handling of this case. The family has remained fully cooperative throughout the investigation. Although the criminal case has concluded with Toby Willis receiving 40 years for the crimes he committed, the impact on the victims will remain much longer. The family is appreciative and grateful that people have respected their need for privacy during this trying time and asks for continued respect as they seek to move forward."