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.
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