The man charged in the disappearance of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett may face the death penalty if he's convicted on a federal charge of kidnapping with death resulting.
Michael Jacques will be arraigned in federal court next week. He is Brooke's uncle and the last person seen with her alive.
"Today is a tragic day for Vermont," United States Attorney Tom Anderson said. "Our thoughts and our prayers are with the Bennett family."
One day after the search for Brooke ended, federal and state prosecutors told reporters their investigation was far from over. Jacques would be charged on federal kidnapping charges. Further investigation, including an autopsy on her remains, would help determine whether more charges are filed.
"A terrible crime of this sort, involving the senseless death of one so young, truly wounds us all," Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell said.
Court papers unsealed Thursday morning indicate Jacques had been plotting this abduction for weeks, carefully orchestrating how he would lure Brooke to his Randolph home, and even how he would plant evidence to cover his tracks and deflect suspicion. Evidence taken from Jacques' computers suggested he even recruited another juvenile to help him with what e-mails refer to as the "take down and tie-up" after they left a Randolph convenience store last Wednesday morning. They were allegedly trying to lure Brooke into a sex ring Jacques called "Breckenridge."
Investigators say there's no evidence such a ring exists. Jacques used pseudonyms and phony e-mail addresses to suggest more men were involved.
"Those emails were produced from two locations," Anderson said. "The IP addresses come back to Mr. Jacques' home and Mr. Jacques' work."
Attorney General Sorrell said investigators do not know for sure if Jacques was the only member, but right now there is no evidence anyone else was involved.
"There's nothing from this investigation that has turned up, nor are federal or state authorities aware of any ongoing effort to recruit young girls or boys here in Vermont to have sex with adults," he said. "You can rest assured that if evidence is uncovered that we feel poses a risk to the public, we will be the first to raise alarm bells publicly."
Police said Jacques planted evidence to deflect suspicion. He told police he found Brooke's shoe in Brookfield, leading investigators to search the pond near the floating bridge. Police also found underwear and a handkerchief that DNA linked to Brooke, but semen on them was not traced to Jacques. E-mails revealed Jacques asked the juvenile to help him plant that evidence -- two days before Brooke disappeared.
Vermont does not have a death penalty, but because this case is in the hands of federal court, that would be on the table if there is a conviction. Anderson said the penalty under federal law for kidnapping with death resulting is death or life imprisonment. The decision on whether to seek it will be made after the investigation is completed and after the case is presented to a grand jury. Ultimately, that decision is made by attorney general of United States.
"This investigation is far from over," Anderson said. "Much work remains to be done and we will work tirelessly until this investigation is complete."