"It's been a nightmare," said Cassandra Gagnon. The pain of losing her daughter is still overwhelming. Six months ago Brooke Bennett was murdered; her Uncle Michael Jacques is facing federal charges for kidnapping and killing the 12-year-old girl.
"I want to prevent this from happening to another family," said Gagnon, "I want to somehow be involved."
So Gagnon came to the statehouse to track work on a new sex offender bill. Following Brooke's death, lawmakers held five public hearings, to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it. Brooke's Uncle Michael Jacques is a registered sex offender and had avoided prosecution for earlier sex crimes.
"The Jacques case is a textbook for what can go wrong and he was able to manipulate the system to get away with various offenses over the years," said Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County.
The bill has 34 changes - including:
expanding the DNA database to include people arrested on felony charges
new prevention programs for schools
banning deferred sentences for sex offenders
banning pre-trial depositions of child victims of alleged sex crimes.
and giving prosecutors the option of a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for sex crimes on kids under 16 years old
"I think long range the preventive measures that are in this bill will protect Vermont children for years to come," said Sen. Sears.
"I want to speak for my daughter Brooke," explained Gagnon, "and help (lawmakers) realize how big of a deal this is."
Senator Sears wants to move quickly on this bill. He hopes to have the Senate pass it by the second week of the legislature, in January, and then it will go to the full house, with the goal of having it to the Governor's desk for his signature by Town Meeting Day.
For the first time, Michael Jacques wife wrote to lawmakers, saying that prevention is key, and there needs to be better communication across state agencies about offenders. Denise Jacques said lives have been "shredded to pieces" and she wanted to testify in person, but lawmakers say prosecutors asked her not to.
Friday, March 7 2014 2:16 PM EST2014-03-07 19:16:04 GMT
Police are investigating a suspicious package in Williston. Investigators say the parcel with an unknown white powder inside was found at a building on Hurricane Lane. The building was evacuated. WillistonMore >>
A building on Hurricane Lane in Williston has been evacuated as police investigate a suspicious package containing an unknown white powder.More >>
Friday, March 7 2014 11:46 AM EST2014-03-07 16:46:45 GMT
Related Stories: O'Hagan children attend playground dedication Charges coming in Pat O'Hagan murder? Clock runs out on some potential charges in O'Hagan case Frustration over unsolved murder at SheffieldMore >>
The Caledonia County state's attorney is filing paperwork to bring murder charges against three men in the 2010 murder of Sheffield grandmother Pat O'Hagan. More >>
Friday, March 7 2014 10:42 AM EST2014-03-07 15:42:34 GMT
The state of Vermont released new evidence in hopes of keeping a Manchester woman behind bars. Fifty-year-old Patricia Kane was arrested on charges of interfering with the custody of a minor in January.More >>
The state of Vermont released new evidence in hopes of keeping a Manchester woman behind bars.More >>
Friday, March 7 2014 12:27 PM EST2014-03-07 17:27:43 GMT
Investigators say a late-night fire at the old Burlington Free Press building was an act of arson. A fire alarm went off in the College Street property at 11:20 p.m. Thursday. Fire crews found a smallMore >>
Investigators say a late-night fire at the old Burlington Free Press building was an act of arson.More >>
Friday, March 7 2014 2:03 PM EST2014-03-07 19:03:49 GMT
A Swanton man was injured Friday in an explosion and fire in the garage at his home on Church Street. Police say Warren Caswell called 911 just after 10 a.m. to report a propane explosion and fire. HeMore >>
A Swanton man was injured Friday in an explosion and fire in the garage at his home on Church Street.More >>