Charges in Vt. case carry death penalty

Federal prosecutors have filed kidnapping charges that carry the death penalty against a Vermont man whose 12-year-old niece was found dead near his home.

Authorities accused Michael Jacques, 42, of carefully orchestrating events and e-mails to make it appear that Brooke Bennett had gone on June 25 to see someone she had met online, according to an affidavit accompanying the charges.

Citing statements from another underage girl, prosecutors claim that Jacques tricked Brooke into thinking she was going to a party and instead took her to his home to initiate her into a child sex ring.

Michael Desautels, the federal public defender representing Jacques, did not return calls Thursday morning.

E-mails quoted in an affidavit released Thursday accuse Jacques of coercing or enlisting the second girl to participate.

The girl wrote, “yes. I will help,” one e-mail said.

Jacques is charged under a federal law that provides for the death penalty in a kidnapping resulting in a child's death. Jacques has 1993 convictions for kidnapping and aggravated sexual assault.

With autopsy results still pending, prosecutors said they could not say that Brooke was murdered. If she was, U.S. Attorney Tom Anderson was asked if he would seek the death penalty.

“That determination would be made after the investigation is completed, after the case is presented to a grand jury and, ultimately, that decision is made by the attorney general of the United States of America,” Anderson said.

Brooke, who had just finished seventh grade, disappeared June 25 after being seen at a convenience store with Jacques.

After searching in and around his home across town for days, police said, they found the girl's body in a spot where the earth had been disturbed.