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Courts & Trials

Former TLC Star Toby Willis Pleads Guilty to Child Rape and Receives 40-Year Sentence

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Toby Willis, the patriarch of TLC’s former reality show The Willis Family, pleaded guilty to four counts of child rape on Tuesday and will serve 40 years in prison, PEOPLE confirms.

Willis received 25-year sentences on two of the rape counts and 40-year sentences on the other two counts, according to Julie Hibbs, the circuit court clerk in Cheatham County, Tennessee.

Hibbs tells PEOPLE the four sentences will run concurrently and be served in their entirety — meaning Willis, a 47-year-old father of 12, will be in prison for 40 years.

Calls to his attorney and to the district attorney general for Cheatham County were not immediately returned.

At the D.A.’s request, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation began investigating Willis in August 2016 in connection with the sexual abuse of an underage girl about 12 years earlier, when the girl was between 3 and 13 years old, authorities have said.

The TBI said Willis fled from his home in Ashland City, Tennessee, to avoid law enforcement but was arrested on Sept. 9, 2016, in Greenville Kentucky, and charged with one count of rape of a child. Three additional counts were later added.

According to the Tennessean, Willis’ victim was between 9 and 12 years old at the time of the abuse.

Toby Willis
Cheatham County Jail

Willis and his family, who traveled the country as a singing group called The Willis Clan, rose to fame after reaching the quarterfinals of season 9 of America’s Got Talent, in 2014.

Their eponymous series aired for two seasons on TLC before concluding in April 2016, after which it was canceled. (A source told PEOPLE last year that the show was canceled shortly after its second season aired, before Willis’ arrest.)

In a statement released by their attorney after Tuesday’s plea, the Tennessean reports, Willis’ family said they were grateful for the “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,” the statement continued. “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.”