A massive search for 12-year-old Brooke Bennett was underway one year ago this week. That search eventually led local police and the FBI to Michael Jacques, and a shallow grave a mile and a half from his home. One year later the man accused of killing Brooke Bennett is in a federal prison while he and Bennett's family wait for his trial to begin. In the meantime, investigators are still following up on the literally hundreds of leads generated during the search for Brooke.
It was an investigation that started like all cases, with a call to police. This one came on the night of June 25, 2008. Twelve-year-old Brooke Bennett was missing. Within hours the details surrounding her disappearance gave police a feeling that the investigation wouldn't lead to a positive end.
"You know I think a lot of us in the back of our mind had a pretty good sense of where it was eventually going to end up," said Major Ed Ledo of the Vermont State Police.
Police immediately eyed Brooke's uncle Michael Jacques. He was the last person seen with her. The two were recorded on camera entering the Cumberland Farms store in Randolph and then leaving in two different directions.
"You're always going to look at the person that was last with the victim," said Ledo.
Brooke's disappearance sparked the state's first Amber Alert, which in turn generated hundreds of leads. Police searched surrounding areas and brought in computer forensics teams to analyze computers related to the disappearance. There they got their break uncovering a string of emails, apparently all from Jacques, acting as multiple people involved in a fake sex ring called Breckenridge. Police concluded Jacques had concocted an elaborate scheme to kidnap and rape Bennett. Her body was found a week later in a shallow grave near his Randolph home.
"I have been on 23 and a half years and I have never seen a case of this magnitude," said Ledo.
Much of the evidence against Jacques comes from those computers. Police have not said whether DNA or other evidence directly links him to her strangulation.
The state turned the case over to federal prosecutors who are now waiting for the new United States Attorney from Vermont to be confirmed so he can decide whether or not he wants to see the death penalty against Michael Jacques.
It will ultimately be U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder who makes the decision, but experts predict he is likely waiting for a recommendation from U.S. Attorney here in Vermont.
"I think that once our new U.S. Attorney is approved by the U.S. Senate, which should happen in the next couple weeks, I think we'll get a decision out of Washington soon thereafter and then the case will start more seriously getting on a pre-trial track," says Bill Sorrell, D-Vt. Attorney General.
Vermont has agreed not to charge Jacques, letting the federal government take the lead. While prosecutors wait for a death penalty decision, an FBI agent and State Police Investigator are still working full time on the case to make sure all leads are followed.
"Authorities are going to do the best that can be done to see that justice is done in the Brooke Bennett case," says Sorrell.
Brooke's father does want Jacques to be eligible for the death penalty. Her mother says death would be the easy way out for Jacques, but she is not advocating for or against it.
Wednesday, March 12 2014 9:27 AM EDT2014-03-12 13:27:09 GMT
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