Brooke Bennett's murder has brought back calls for a tougher law against adults who sexually prey on children. More than thirty states -- but not Vermont -- have enacted Jessica's law, setting a 25-year minimum prison sentence for convicted child sex offenders.
The investigation that led to the discovery of Brooke Bennett's body did not end this case. State and federal law enforcement officials say there may be additional arrests as the investigation points to an Internet pornography connection. And there's also political fallout. Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (R-Vermont) is calling for enactment of Jessica's Law.
"When a person is sexually assaulted, a minor is sexually assaulted, it's my opinion that they should go to jail for 25 years," Dubie told Channel 3. "That's very simple and that's what Jessica's Law calls for. I'm also asking that we reconsider what the governor proposed last legislative session, and that's civil confinement."
The legislature rejected a proposal by Gov. Jim Douglas (R-Vermont) for civil confinement, under which prisoners who fail to complete sex offender treatment can be held past the end of their sentences. House Judiciary committee chairman Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg) opposed both proposals -- and both died. The Douglas administration says it received an unprecedented number of letters asking for tougher sentencing for child sex offenders following the high profile Mark Hulett case two years ago.
But Attorney General Bill Sorrell (D-Vt) says although a 25-year mandatory minimum sounds good, it could actually hurt some sex offender prosecutions. "You can pass a law that says a 25-year minimum if you get convicted of child sexual assault," he said. "That'll mean more trials, more victims that go through trials, and probably result in less convictions because the iffy cases we have right now, where we've got problems, we usually bargain them down."
Dubie and Sorrell disagree on the need for Jessica's Law, but on one point they both agree -- that after the case of Brooke Bennett's death is fully resolved, it will be time for Vermont to conduct a comprehensive review of how the state deals with sex offenders.
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