Amid prosecutor's absence, dance instructor pushes plea deal

Ernest "E-knock" Phillips/File
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Citing media coverage from Channel 3 News and other news outlets of his guilty plea last week, Ernest "E-Knock" Phillips is asking a judge to accept a plea agreement he struck with Washington County State's Attorney Scott Williams that would offer him a sentence of three years on probation.

Judge VanBenthuysen put the deal on hold last week after two of Phillips' alleged victims told the court that Williams had not consulted them about the deal, and wanted Phillips to face a harsher sentence.

At the Nov. 9 hearing, Judge VanBenthuysen also told Williams he had 1 week to speak with the victims. Current court records do not indicate whether or not that happened.

In a motion filed with the court Thursday, Attorney Jessica Burke argued that because Phillips pleaded guilty to two counts of prohibited acts, and the guilty pleas were recorded by the media and subsequent stories were aired on television and posted online, it would be impossible for Phillips to receive a fair trial should the plea agreement be denied.

Burke also said Phillips has received "death threats on social media."

Phillips' guilty pleas were stated in a courtroom open to the public and recorded by multiple media outlets, including Channel 3 News. Vermont law allows court proceedings to be recorded by the media, unless specifically prohibited by a judge.

Prior to last week's hearing, prosecutors filed a separate motion to ban courtroom recordings. That motion remains outstanding.

On Tuesday, the office of Washington County State's Attorney Scott Williams confirmed to Channel 3 that Williams was on leave, effective immediately.

The following day, the Vermont Department of State's Attorneys and Sheriffs released a statement explaining that Williams is expected to return to work after clearance from his doctor. It is unclear when that will occur.