Lawyers and loved ones descended on Burlington's federal courthouse Tuesday. More than five years after Brooke Bennett was killed, the 12-year-old's family finally got to hear her killer utter the word "guilty."
"At least now there's a chance that the family can begin to heal," said Allen Gilbert of the Vt. American Civil Liberties Union.
Earlier this month, Michael Jacques, 47, cut a deal with federal prosecutors. They dropped the death penalty in exchange for his guilty pleas.
The ACLU opposes the death penalty and says this resolution spares Brooke's family unnecessary pain.
"Going through a death penalty trial is not simply hearing horrific stuff recited again, but in much greater detail in a courtroom for a number of weeks. It is actually a process that, on average in this country, takes 10 years," Gilbert said.
Tuesday marked the first time Jacques publicly admitted to abducting, drugging, raping and killing his niece in 2008. He also pleaded guilty to four counts of producing child pornography and one count of possessing it.
Prosecutors laid out their case for the court, chronicling horrific details of how Jacques lured Brooke to his Randolph home with a promise of a pool party. But instead he fed her Diazepam, raped and smothered her, buried her body in a shallow grave near his home, and then crafted an elaborate scheme to cover his tracks. When the judge asked Jacques if the story was accurate, he responded, "I'm afraid it is, sir."
Jacques was barely recognizable in court. The Randolph man looked significantly older and heavier since we last saw in state court five years ago.
"Overall, we think this was a fair and just way to resolve this case. It's finality," said David Ruhnke, Jacques' lawyer.
Under the deal, Jacques avoids the death penalty but forfeits his right to an appeal and will spend life plus 70 years in prison without the possibility of parole. Judge William Sessions called binding plea agreements like this one in the federal system extraordinary.
"There are no appeals. The case is over for all intents and purposes. Mr. Jacques is simply going to go to prison for the rest of his life and things are over," Ruhnke said.
Brooke's family left the courthouse hand-in-hand. They didn't speak to the media, but previously told WCAX News they had mixed emotions about the deal that keeps Jacques alive.
"Nothing is going to make me feel better," mom Cassandra Adams said. "So, I feel that he did the worst thing that anybody could possibly do and he deserves the worst punishment."
"His actions warrant that," dad Jim Bennett said. "Everything he has done in this case and leading up to this case. It's just he is a monster. He doesn't deserve to breathe the air we do."
And although Jacques will take that last breath behind bars, it cannot bring their daughter back.
"We're sorry and they're entitled to feel the way they feel," Ruhnke said.
A date for Jacques' sentencing has not been set. His lawyer says it will likely take months.
Sunday, December 8 2013 7:09 AM EST2013-12-08 12:09:14 GMT
Competition could be fierce for new casino licenses in upstate New York. The licenses will be awarded next year after voters passed an amendment allowing Vegas-style casinos outside Indian land. FourMore >>
Competition could be fierce for new casino licenses in upstate New York.More >>
Sunday, December 8 2013 7:06 AM EST2013-12-08 12:06:06 GMT
Talks next week in New York will try to determine how new state land in the central Adirondacks can be used. The Adirondack Park Agency is considering recommendations for the land in the towns of IndianMore >>
Talks next week in New York will try to determine how new state land in the central Adirondacks can be used.More >>
Sunday, December 8 2013 7:04 AM EST2013-12-08 12:04:16 GMT
A 28-year-old Coventry man is dead after a crash Saturday night in Irasburg. Police say at about 8:40 p.m. Gerald Begin rolled his car on Route 5 and was thrown out of the vehicle. He was taken toMore >>
A 28-year-old Coventry man is dead after a crash Saturday night in Irasburg.More >>
Saturday, December 7 2013 8:43 PM EST2013-12-08 01:43:53 GMT
Police in New Hampshire are investigating an accident on Interstate 89 that claimed two lives. It happened on the northbound lane between Exit#18 and Exit#19 in Lebanon. The initial investigation revealedMore >>
It happened on the northbound lane between Exit#18 and Exit#19 in Lebanon, N.H. Saturday.More >>
Saturday, December 7 2013 8:38 PM EST2013-12-08 01:38:15 GMT
A Burlington family is remembering the life of a young teen through artwork. Emily Lyman died of Leukemia at just fifteen years old, in December of last year. Now, her mother, Monica Lyman, is holdingMore >>
A Burlington family is remembering the life of a young teen through artwork.More >>
Saturday, December 7 2013 8:17 PM EST2013-12-08 01:17:57 GMT
There's still plenty of time to check off gifts on that Christmas list. The 21st Annual Vermont International Festival has something for everyone. The event began at the Champlain Valley Exposition asMore >>
Shoppers could find everything from Yoga mats from South America to jewelry from Tibet.More >>
Saturday, December 7 2013 8:11 PM EST2013-12-08 01:11:52 GMT
It's out with the old and in with the new. A new ice skating rink in Stowe has replaced the old Jackson Arena. Saturday, the town welcomed skaters to take a spin on the ice at the new arena's grand opening. TheMore >>
The new skating rink will also offer a learn to skate program and hockey initiation programs for all ages.More >>
Saturday, December 7 2013 8:05 PM EST2013-12-08 01:05:37 GMT
We have some ideas for what you can do on this Sunday, December 8, 2013. ART HOP The South End Arts & Business Association is holding its 6th Annual South End Holiday sHOP event on December 6-8, 2013.More >>
We have some ideas for what you can do on this Sunday, December 8, 2013.More >>