The child rape case of Toby Willis, former star of TLC’s reality show The Willis Clan, is set to finally begin after a fourth delay postponed the proceedings for several months. Though Willis was arrested for the rape of an underage girl nearly six months ago, a string of legal and out-of-court incidents has kept his trial from advancing to even a preliminary hearing. The most recent and longest delay, according to the Tennessean, came when Michael Shipman, Willis’ attorney, said he begun to “question [Willis’] competence” to stand trial, and asked that the judge grant a further stay so Willis could undergo a three-month mental evaluation.
The state’s attorneys objected to Shipman’s petition. And Judge Philip Maxey’s “patience [was] visibly tested” by the request. But the judge did agree that, “based on the seriousness of the crimes,” an evaluation would be in the best interests of both Toby Willis and the state’s case.
However, Judge Maxey reminded both attorneys that the ongoing delays were becoming a problem. “We’ve got to move this case along,” the judge said. “It’s been sitting too long already.”
Willis has remained imprisoned in Ashland City TN–approximately 20 miles west of Nashville–for the duration of the study, which is expected to conclude this month. His trial is now scheduled to begin March 1st.
Under Tennessee law, Willis was entitled to a preliminary hearing within 10 days of his arrest; Willis waived that right. His hearing was first postponed when Judge Maxey was absent from the court “for an undisclosed reason” in late September and early October. The second attempt at a hearing was rescheduled from October 5th, following a request by Willis’ attorneys. And the third attempt was put on hold when Judge Robert Burch, a long-tenured member of the Tennessee General Sessions Court, died in late October; all business before the General Sessions was put on hold for several days, while the court was in official mourning.
Toby Willis’ current saga began last August, when the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation began investigating Toby based on information they received from a Willis family member. By September 9th, the Bureau had enough evidence to charge Toby, but he fled the state before officers could arrest him. He was later arrested in Greenville KY and extradited back to Tennessee; Toby Willis has been held without bail in the Cheatham County Jail since September 13.
The rape of which Willis is accused allegedly took place in 2002, when the child in question–a Willis family member–was either nine or ten years old.
(Photo credit: Did Toby Willis go to court yet via Cheatham County jail, Greenville KY Sheriff’s Department)