A small crowd turned out in Saint Albans Saturday to rally for Jessica's Law here in Vermont. The measure is on the books in 40 other states. It would require tougher sentencing for convicted pedophiles.
Supporters of a mandatory minimum sentence for sexual assault on a child say they have gathered 12,000 petition signatures gathered from around Vermont. This is not the first time that the issue has brought out calls for change. It is, though, the first one since the murder of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett. The man charged with kidnapping her was a registered sex offender who was also facing charges for sexually abusing another child. But not everyone who supports tougher sentences is insisting on the 25 years contained in Jessica's law.
"These cases need to be reviewed individually, however I think we need to have a minimum fifteen year mandatory sentence for pedophiles. Jessica's Law is 25 years. That's very aggressive... But we need to take steps to set up something that's mandatory for sentencing," said Maura Kelley, a substitute teacher who lives in Hinesburg.
Rally organizer Paul Beaudry, who hosts radio talk shows, has been pushing Jessica's Law on the air. He said initially, mandatory sentencing had support from both major political parties. "We had six lawmakers sign it, three Democrats, three Republicans," he said. "So it was a bipartisan bill. And (Rep. Bill) Lippert along with (Rep. Gaye) Symington made sure it went nowhere."
Rally organizers admit they won't get anywhere with Jessica's Law unless they can elect more lawmakers who support it. Vermont's legislature recently rejected mandatory sentencing, but did enact changes that include a possible life sentence for second-time child sex offenders.