Hearings Start on Toughening Sex Crimes - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Hearings Start on Toughening Sex Crimes

Rich Kearney Rich Kearney
Brooke Bennett Brooke Bennett
Michael Jacques Michael Jacques

Montpelier, Vermont - August 7, 2008

"What the heck is going on in this system?" asked Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County.

It's a question many Vermonters hope can be answered soon. Lawmakers are beginning hearings into how Vermont handles sex offenders following the death of Brooke Bennett.

"One of my concerns is that sex offenders are crafty and clever and I hope they will implement a law that will prevent this from happening to another child," said Catherine Metropoulos, the mother of a crime victim.

Brooke's uncle Michael Jacques is the prime suspect in her disappearance. For the first time, his probation officer spoke about why Jacques was released 7 years early from probation following a rape conviction.

"It truly is a tragedy and I welcome the opportunity again to make it better," said probation officer Rich Kearney.

Kearney says Jacques had done everything right; completing treatment, getting a job, and getting married.

"I myself was asked do I recommend discharge. What I said was he had been successful in complying with the terms and conditions of his probation and I saw no reason for him to be withheld from probation," explained Kearney.

But it turns out Kearney did not report to a judge that Jacques had violated probation by not re-registering as a sex offender in New Hampshire where he worked. Kearney says for Vermont offenders with New Hampshire jobs-- that's common.

"He was where he said he was, but for having the registration expired he wasn't avoiding supervision, he was where he needed to be," said Kearney.

"When I read the whole damn record I see truly the failure of our corrections system to talk to each other," said Sears.

"With the benefit of hindsight we were wrong, the department was wrong, and the prosecutor was right," said Vt. Corrections Commissioner Rob Hofmann.

"I think we are going to see changes. I think it's going to be more difficult to be a sex offender in Vermont," said Sears.

Corrections officials did point out that how sex offenders are dealt with has changed since the Jacques case. The department now conducts random lie detector tests and also says it has better ways to assess the risk to reoffend. The Douglas administration laid out several recommendations-- from tougher sentencing to using technology to better track offenders.

Click here for more information on the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee's hearings on ways to toughen laws against sex crimes involving children, including court documents and legislative work on the issue.

Kristin Carlson - WCAX News

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