US withdraws death penalty in Vt. niece killing - The Caledonian-Record - St. Johnsbury, VT
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home : news : regional February 5, 2016

US withdraws death penalty in Vt. niece killing

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) -- Federal prosecutors said Friday they would withdraw plans to seek the death penalty against a Vermont man charged with the 2008 abduction, sexual assault and killing of his 12-year-old niece in exchange for a guilty plea and his agreeing to a sentence of life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors said in a news release after the close of business Friday that they expect Michael Jacques to enter the guilty plea in the death of his niece Brooke Bennett. They did not say when that might be, but a pre-trial hearing had already been scheduled for Thursday in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

Their plans to withdraw the death penalty were partly due to "the potential impact on a victim-witness of a trial," they said.

Vermont U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin did not return a call seeking comment, and efforts to reach relatives of the girl were unsuccessful Friday evening. Jacques' attorney also did not return a call for comment.

Jacques, 47, a convicted sex offender, had pleaded not guilty to a charge of kidnapping with death resulting and two counts of child pornography.

Prosecutors say Jacques used a 14-year-old girl he had been sexually abusing since she was 9 to lure Brooke to his home for a pool party. They say Jacques drugged, sexually assaulted and killed Brooke after her June 25, 2008, disappearance from a Randolph convenience store, where she was seen on video walking out of the store.

The girl's body was found buried in a shallow grave near Jacques' home after a weeklong search.

Less than a year after her death, the Vermont Legislature passed a law aimed at improving the state's prosecution of sex crimes. The new law stiffened penalties for sex crimes against children and gave prosecutors new tools to combat such crimes, including the expansion of special investigative units across the state.

Jury selection for Jacques' trial had been scheduled to begin Sept. 3. The trial was expected to last two months.

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