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Jacques Likely To Plead Guilty Next Week

It was a horrific crime that shocked and saddened Vermonters. Michael Jacques will be tried next month for the abduction, rape and murder of his niece Brooke Bennett in 2005. She was 12 when she was found dead about a mile from Jacques’ home.

Now, federal prosecutors have reached a deal with Jacques. He’s likely to plead guilty to the crime in order to avoid the possibility of a death penalty sentence. A hearing is scheduled for next week in the case.

Vermont Law School professor Cheryl Hanna says that while Vermont doesn’t allow for the death penalty, Jacques was charged with a federal crime in this case.

“What made this a federal crime was ultimately was the fact that he used the Internet,” said Hanna.

Jacques was charged under the Adam Walsh Act, a law that made it a federal crime to use “an instrumentality of Interstate commerce,” in other words the Internet, to lure Bennett to the scene of her abduction.

That was a move the prosecution may have felt was risky. Because Jacques is not accused of physically taking Brooks across state lines, this was a more unconventional invocation of the law. Hanna says that may be one reason for the plea deal.

“I suspect that there was some concern that if Jacques got the death penalty, the likelihood of appeal on many issues, including that one, was very high,” said Hanna.

Hanna said other issues, such as the idea that impartial jurors would be difficult to find in Vermont because the case was too widely known, also made the risk of appeal higher.

Hanna compared the case to that of Donald Fell, another Vermont man who was sentenced to the death in 2005 for an abduction and murder. The Fell case is consistently in the news, with hearings on juror conduct still scheduled.

In contrast, Hanna says if Michael Jacques pleads guilty, the case is likely to leave the public eye.

“I think it’s highly unlikely that we’ll hear much about him anymore,” said Hanna.

Jacques is due in court for a hearing on August 27th.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
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