Vt. man pleads guilty to kidnapping, assaulting, killing niece in exchange for life sentence

A Vermont man pleaded guilty Tuesday to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing his 12-year-old niece five years ago, avoiding a federal death penalty trial.

Michael Jacques, 47, of Randolph, entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Burlington. As part of an agreement with federal prosecutors, he will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Prosecutors had been planning to seek the death penalty against Jacques, whose trial was scheduled to start after Labor Day.

Jacques initially pleaded not guilty in the fall of 2008 to kidnapping, sexually assaulting and killing his niece. The change of plea and agreement with prosecutors was announced earlier this month. He pleaded guilty to charges of kidnapping with death resulting, four counts of production of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography.

Prosecutors say Jacques used a 14-year-old girl he had been sexually abusing since she was 9 to lure Brooke to his home for a pool party. They say Jacques drugged, sexually assaulted and killed Brooke after her June 25, 2008, disappearance from a Randolph convenience store, where she was seen on video walking out.

Prosecutors said Jacques then devised a scheme to create an online trail making it look like Brooke was the victim of someone she'd met online. Her body was found buried in a shallow grave near Jacques' home after a weeklong search.

When the judge asked him if all of the allegations were true, Jacques said, "It is, sir."

His attorney, David Ruhnke, said afterward, "We just think this was a fair and enlightened way to resolve this case."

When they first heard the news about the plea agreement, Brooke's parents, Jim Bennett and Cassandra Adams, had said that they were disappointed in the outcome.

Jim Bennett, Brooke's father, said he had seen the suspect's name on Vermont's sex-offender registry in the mid-2000s when he had been training as a town constable and tried to discourage the girl from visiting his home. He said he wonders if he had pushed harder to keep his daughter away from Jacques if she might still be alive.

"It's one of those things that's in the back of my mind all the time," Bennett told the Burlington Free Press last week.

Jacques' name was added to the registry after a 1993 conviction for aggravated sexual assault involving a female coworker at a West Rutland business.

Jacques was married to the sister of Brooke's mother, with whom Bennett had had a brief relationship.

Vermont has no state death penalty, but Jacques was to be tried under federal law. His trial would have been the second death penalty trial held before U.S. District Court Judge William K. Sessions III.

In 2005, Donald Fell was found guilty and sentenced to death for abducting a North Clarendon woman as she arrived for work at a Rutland supermarket. She was later killed in New York state.

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