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Do Vermonters Support the Death Penalty? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

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Do Vermonters Support the Death Penalty?

Michael Jacques Michael Jacques
Brooke Bennett Brooke Bennett
Michelle Gardner-Quinn Michelle Gardner-Quinn

Burlington, Vermont - October 31, 2008

Thanks to Michael Jacques, many Vermonters have been re-examining crime, punishment and public safety.

Jacques is facing federal charges that could get him the death penalty for the rape and murder of his niece Brooke Bennett. The case triggered calls from the Governor and other state leaders to create a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for aggravated sexual assault.

Our poll of 400 likely Vermont voters asked Vermonters how they feel about a 25-year mandatory minimum for that crime.

72 percent said yes; 17 percent said no; 11 percent were unsure.

"I think what this shows is that the public's lost trust in our court systems," said Cheryl Hanna, a professor at Vermont Law School.

Hanna says the results are not surprising given the headline stories about how the system helped Jacques and other sex offenders avoid prosecution and punishment.

"I think what's really interesting about this poll is that it suggests that Vermonters, their sentiment is maybe really changing on the death penalty," Hanna observed.

Hanna is right. A Macro Poll 7 years ago found Vermonters split on the issue; 45 percent in support, 46 percent opposed.

But in recent years there has been a series of barbaric and terrifying murders including the kidnapping, rape and murder of UVM student Michelle Gardner-Quinn.

Brian Rooney was convicted of the killing. He was sentenced to life without parole-- a sentence too lenient for the victim's mother, even though her daughter had opposed the death penalty.

"I would like to ask citizens of Vermont in their town meetings and their public forums to re-visit the death penalty," Diane Gardner-Quinn said.

This week there was another call for the death penalty when Christopher Williams was sentenced to life in prison for the Essex school shootings.

"He killed my sister and he deserves the death penalty," Laurie Malenfant said.

Laurie Malenfant is the sister of shooting victim Alicia Shanks. Malenfant is already doing research to spearhead a campaign to put the death penalty back on the books.

She said, "It's been very interesting to me to see how many people have greeted me specifically with, 'There! There should be the death penalty here in Vermont!'"

Our poll conducted last week suggests she is right.

We asked if Vermonters agreed with Michelle-Gardner Quinn's mother that the death penalty should be re-established.

66 percent said yes; 29 percent no; and 5 percent were undecided.

"Often our heart tells us that there's no justice unless this person is executed. And just when we start to start to see how complicated it is to impose a death penalty, and we're really faced with then having to execute someone, I think that makes people sometimes doubt whether the death penalty's the appropriate punishment," Hanna said.

Vermont's last execution was in 1954 when Donald Demag died in the electric chair at the Windsor Prison for his second murder-- committed after he busted out of the prison.

Vermont is presently one of 13 states with no death penalty.

Brian Joyce - WCAX News

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