Murdered Vermont Girl's Uncle Waives Preliminary Hearing

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The Vermont man accused of kidnapping 12-year-old Brooke Bennett has waived a preliminary hearing at which an FBI agent was expected to testify.

In a last-minute move Wednesday, 42-year-old Michael Jacques opted not to go forward with the hearing in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

Jacques, a registered sex offender, is accused of kidnapping his niece, who disappeared June 25 and was found dead a week later.

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Public defender Michael Desautels' a one-sentence notice to the court did not explain his client's decision. Desautels did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

A judge was to decide Wednesday whether there is probable cause to believe Jacques committed the offense alleged in the complaint.

Meanwhile, two lawyers with extensive experience in capital cases have joined Jacques' defense team in anticipation that prosecutors will seek the death penalty against him.

At Desautels' request, U.S. District Judge William Sessions III on Monday appointed Jean deSales Barrett and David Ruhnke of Montclair, N.J., to help Desautels.

Brooke's cause of death has yet to be released. Depending on how she died, prosecutors said, Jacques could face the death penalty under the federal kidnapping law.

U.S. Attorney Tom Anderson said the 2006 Adam Walsh law — named for another abducted child — allows federal prosecution of such crimes when they are facilitated by the Internet.

Prosecutors say Jacques used Brooke's MySpace page and fictitious e-mail identities to orchestrate her abduction.

The decision about whether to seek the death penalty is months away, Anderson said Tuesday. It will be made after the investigation is complete, the case is presented to a grand jury and an indictment is made.

"Ultimately, that decision is made by the attorney general of the United States," he said.

Desautels, Jacques' lawyer, declined to comment on the appointment of Ruhnke and Barrett.

The husband-and-wife team have been involved in 22 or 23 cases since the early 1980s, two of which resulted in death orders, Ruhnke said.

One was set aside and the other was appealed, he said. They've also had 20 or 30 cases resolved without a trial, he said.

"The reason we've been appointed in this case is it carries a potential death sentence. It doesn't mean it's going to be a death penalty case. One of our functions will be to try to marshal reasons to the government why the death penalty shouldn't become an issue," said Ruhnke.

He won't attend Wednesday's hearing, but Barrett will, he said.

If the Justice Department decides to seek the death penalty against Jacques, it would be the third such case in the last decade in Vermont, which does not have a state death penalty.

Charges stemming from a 1998 fatal bombing in Fair Haven resulted in a guilty plea in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

In 2005, a jury sentenced Donald Fell to death for the 2000 carjacking murder of Terry King, 53, of North Clarendon, who was kidnapped when she arrived at a Rutland supermarket for work and then beaten to death in New York state.

Vermont's U.S. Attorney at the time didn't want to seek the death penalty in the case, but was ordered to do so by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. It was Vermont's first death sentence in almost 50 years.

Fell, 28, is on death row in Terre Haute, Ind.