Plea deal for dance instructor put on hold

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BARRE, Vt. (WCAX) A judge put a plea deal on hold for a former dance teacher charged with sex crimes against kids.

"This is a man that uses his position of authority to lure women into a sense of safety and then takes advantage of their innocence," said Kienan Christianson, an attorney representing an alleged victim

Ernest "E-knock" Phillips tried to plead guilty to two counts of prohibited acts Thursday.

"Did you expose your genitals to victim number two?" questioned the judge.

Phillips replied, "Yes I did."

But after hearing the victim's statements, the judge wouldn't move forward.

Both victims said Washington County State's Attorney Scott Williams did not talk to them about the deal and that they think Phillips should face stricter consequences.

"It's no different than what happened with Harvey Weinstein. It's no different than what happened with Bill O'Reilly. It's no different than what happened with Kevin Spacey," said Christianson.

"The defendant should be put on the sex offender registry to better protect the young girls he encounters in the future. This sentence is unfair to me, and the other victims," said victim advocate Holly Leach.

Under the deal, Phillips would have been placed on probation for three years and banned from teaching underage girls.

The judge gave Williams one week to speak with the victims.

"Victims, while they're not parties explicitly, they do have the right at least to be consulted and to be apprised of the proposed probation conditions. The court is not saying that it will or will not accept the plea agreement," Vt. Superior Court Judge Howard VanBenthuysen said.

Phillips originally pleaded not guilty to six felony charges for allegedly having sex with two teenage dance students when he taught at Green Mountain Dance Academy in Waterbury.

"The alleged victims first said when this was first investigated that this did not occur, that they were not assaulted, that they did not have any relations with Mr. Phillips. It wasn't until court years later that they changed that allegation," said Jessica Burke, Phillips’ attorney.

Before the charges were filed, Phillips was a popular name in the Chittenden County dance community. WCAX interviewed the aspiring entertainer when he worked at the Vermont Ninja Warrior Program.

"It's basically like a playground for adults," Phillips said at the time.

Phillips was also a contestant on "The Amazing Race."

"I get to incorporate my strength. I love showing off my muscles," he had said.

But back in the courtroom, Williams says the lack of physical evidence, among other factors, would make it difficult to bring this case to trial.

"I take no pleasure from standing here today with this outcome but I do think it is the least-bad outcome that could be fashioned given all of the variables," said Williams.

The judge plans to pick up the case again next Thursday.