"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.
Saturday, May 25 2013 8:16 PM EDT2013-05-26 00:16:13 GMT
A burglary at the Dorset Union Store. Police say the Church Street business, in Dorset, was broken into sometime late Friday night or early Saturday morning. At this time, we do not know what was stolen.More >>
Police search for a suspect that left his blood at the crime scene.More >>
Saturday, May 25 2013 8:13 PM EDT2013-05-26 00:13:06 GMT
Governor Peter Shumlin is urging Vermonters to be vigilant as the rain continues to come down. Especially, he says, with the possibility of wet snow that could bring down trees and damage property. ShumlinMore >>
Governor Peter Shumlin is urging Vermonters to stay safe as the rain continues to come down.More >>
Saturday, May 25 2013 8:09 PM EDT2013-05-26 00:09:12 GMT
First responders scrambled to drain a private dam Saturday afternoon to avert major damage. Officials say the dam on Poker Hill road in Underhill nearly burst Saturday afternoon. Members of the localMore >>
First responders scrambled to drain a private dam Saturday afternoon to avert major damage.More >>
Saturday, May 25 2013 7:58 PM EDT2013-05-25 23:58:16 GMT
Rain-battered state roads in the hardest hit areas of Underhill and Jericho are re-open to traffic, but that doesn't mean the work is done for crews. "It's been a very challenging two-day event here soMore >>
As the rain continues to pour down, response crews are not getting a break.More >>
Saturday, May 25 2013 7:51 PM EDT2013-05-25 23:51:37 GMT
Driving along Route 15, you may notice some roads have reopened as crews guide drivers cautiously around the cracked gravel. But driving down roads like North Underhill Station, you won't get very far. ConnerMore >>
While needed repairs are being made, more work is ahead.More >>
Friday, May 24 2013 11:30 PM EDT2013-05-25 03:30:10 GMT
A hole in the road closed one of the routes into Canada Friday.State Police say Route 5 in Derby Line is closed near Caswell Avenue because of a hole in the pavement just a couple of feet over the lineMore >>
A hole in the road closed one of the routes into Canada Friday.More >>
Friday, May 24 2013 7:17 PM EDT2013-05-24 23:17:06 GMT
It was a storm that left residents with more damage than they could have ever imagined. "The basement has about 13 inches of water," said Bob Genter of Underhill. And preparing for the aftermath of theMore >>
Flash floods left destruction across the region. And the rain is not over. Heavy downpours left some people trapped in their neighborhoods as emergency crews work to try to clear the roads.More >>
Friday, May 24 2013 7:54 PM EDT2013-05-24 23:54:18 GMT
Vermont State Police say the following roads have been closed due to flooding:UNDERHILL: VERMONT ROUTE 15, CILLEYHILL POKER HILL ROAD NORTH UNDERHILL STATION ROAD PAIGE ROAD DAUDLIN ROAD BROWNS TRACE,More >>