It's been four years since Brooke Bennett, 12, was allegedly kidnapped, raped and murdered by her uncle, Michael Jacques. And now the family will have to wait another year to see Jacques stand trial.
"Terrible, terrible, we have another birthday coming up, we will have holidays again without her," said Lucinda Milne, Brooke's grandmother.
Jacques' death penalty case has dragged on for four years as prosecutors and defense attorneys have wrangled over numerous issues. A trial was scheduled for last September but pushed back due to appeals.
Friday, prosecutors and defense attorneys met to schedule a new trial date. Judge William Sessions set it for September 2013. That's because a ruling on an appeal about evidence in the case is not expected for several months and one of Jacques' lawyers is scheduled for a six-month trial beginning next January.
"When Mike's lawyer says he had other commitments, to me that's not right. His commitment should be from the day he took the case until it's over on my granddaughter," Milne said.
"I think this one, even for the federal system, is a bit lengthier than most," said Jerry O'Neill, a former federal prosecutor.
O'Neill says most capital punishment cases do take several years before going to trial. The last death penalty case held in a federal courtroom in Vermont was the Donald Fell murder trial. It was four years before that case went to trial. O'Neill says there are many reasons why these cases take years before going to a jury. One is scheduling of trials that will likely last for months. And more resources are applied to cases in the federal system.
"Judge Sessions is very smart, very thoughtful. He wants to do it right, he wants to dot the i's cross the t's and wants to do it correctly every step along the way. So if the defense asks for something for a legitimate reason, he is likely to give it to them. He doesn't want that to be the basis for an appeal," O'Neill said.
Bennett's family says it will be a tough waiting another year for the trial, but they are willing to wait if that's what it means for justice.
"We are still a family which amazes me," Milne said. "There ain't too many families that can go through what we are going through and stay together."
The trial next fall is scheduled to last about two months. Last year, Judge William Sessions denied the defense's request to move the trial out of Vermont because of pretrial publicity. But Judge Session did say Friday if it appears to be too difficult picking an impartial jury, he has not ruled out moving the trial.
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