MONTPELIER, Vt. – Reversing what it said last week, the state Department of Corrections now says it recommended the release from probation of a convicted sex offender accused of kidnapping 12-year-old Brooke Bennett.
Michael Jacques, 42, was released from probation in 2006, after serving more than four years in prison and being supervised for eight years for kidnapping and sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman in 1992.
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Gov. Jim Douglas said Thursday that the Corrections Department's recommendation was a mistake.
"That's why I've asked the corrections commissioner to look at the procedure for making these determinations, making sure there's adequate oversight, and that it's not just one or two people in the department making the recommendation on such an important manner," he said.
Corrections Commissioner Rob Hofmann said that a probation officer had recommended in 2004 that Jacques be discharged from probation, after not supporting a release request the year before.
"Mr. Jacques has satisfied and fulfilled all case specific conditions of probation put in place to reduce his risk of re-offense," wrote probation officer Richard Kearney.
In 2004, with Kearney's recommendation, Judge Amy Davenport ruled that Jacques' probation end in 2006, as long as no violations occurred and despite strong objections from prosecutors.
"According to Mr. Jacques' probation officer, he is a 'probation success story,"' Davenport wrote in her order. "He is married and has a child. He and his wife own a home in which they reside. He has been very successful in his employment and is now in a position which entails significant responsibility."
Last week Jacques was charged with orchestrating the abduction of his niece Brooke, who disappeared June 25 and was found dead a week later. Her body was discovered in a shallow grave about a mile from his home.
In the earlier case, the state urged that Jacques be supervised for the maximum of 20 years given the brutality of the crime. Corrections Commissioner Rob Hofmann said the duration of Jacques' probation was indeterminate.
According to a police affidavit, in the 1992 case Jacques abducted the high school senior after she left a Barre bar, handcuffed her, put a rope around her neck and cloth in her mouth and forced her to engage in sex acts. He told her he had killed a girl in Arizona seven years earlier and at one point held a knife to the woman's throat, the affidavit said.
Davenport agreed with the state's assessment of the brutality involved, but disagreed with the state that he should spend another eight years on probation.
Jacques had completed a sex offender treatment program in 2000.
"The primary purpose of the probationary portion of the defendant's sentence was to ensure that defendant received appropriate rehabilitative treatment and to monitor him to ensure that he did not relapse and once again pose a threat to others," she wrote.
At his weekly news conference earlier in the day, the governor said Brooke's case warranted a serious discussion about the appropriate penalties for certain heinous crimes.
Jessica's Law, a tougher sex offender registry law and civil confinement, which would keep certain sexually violent inmates beyond their maximum prison terms should be on the table, he said. Death penalty for sexual assault on a minor with death resulting, which Douglas said a number of people are calling for, and chemical castration for violent sexual predators, also should be part of the discussion, he said.
Jessica's Law is named after a 9-year-old Florida girl who was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a convicted sex offender in 2005. It requires a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years and electronic surveillance of sex offenders who prey on children under 12.
But Douglas stopped short of calling a special session of the Legislature, saying based on previous actions on his sex offender proposals he did not have confidence that the Legislature would be effective.
"I'm not going to call the Legislature back unless and until there's complete agreement on a package so it can be handled expeditiously," he said.
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin said he would be open to a special session but said none of the governor's suggestions would have helped in this case.
He said he plans to ask the Senate Judiciary Committee to meet up to six times between now and Nov. 15 to examine why Jacques was released from probation; if sex offender laws passed since his 1993 conviction would have changed the alleged outcome; and what else can be done to make Vermont more safe.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Richard Sears, D-Bennington, said the question to be asked is: "How do we keep kids safe from people they should be able to trust ... I don't think you do that in a two-day special session."
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