Jacksonville, NC - An Onslow County ice cream shop owner has pleaded guilty in a sexual assault case, just a week after backing out of a plea agreement to avoid a trial. He will serve just 20 days in jail.
Ernest Van Cooney plead guilty to four counts of assault on a female, three counts of sexual battery and one count of assault with a deadly weapon.
Many of the victims were teenage employees of his business in Richlands. One mother told the judge "This thing sitting here is a monster and a sexual predator, he needs counseling I pray he doesn't molest his grandchildren."
Last summer one of the victims told WITN News that Van Cooney "unsnapped her bra strap, kissed her face and bit her neck, holding a knife to her throat."
Van Cooney, who is married with five children, originally faced felony sexual assault charges. But prosecutors dropped those felony counts as part of the plea deal.
His lawyer questioned if the work environment for the girls was so hostile and unbearable, why didn't they just quit. One victim told the court "Ernie's own son said: My father is a pervert, what can I do to help." She added, "Today I'll forget you, but you'll remember me for the rest of your life."
Van Cooney was given 20 days in jail, plus 3 years of supervised probation. He must also pay for the girls counseling and not have any contact with the victims in any way.
The judge also ordered that Van Cooney cannot socialize with under 18, can't purchase or possess alcohol and will be on the sex offender registry for the next 30 years.
Stay with WITN News and witn.com for more on this developing story.
Viewers with disabilities can get assistance accessing this station's FCC Public Inspection File by contacting the station with the information listed below. Questions or concerns relating to the accessibility of the FCC's online public file system should be directed to the FCC at 888-225-5322, 888-835-5322 (TTY), or email@example.com.