New details in Vermont girl's death

July 3, 2008 6:05:56 PM PDT
A Vermont man whose 12-year-old niece was found dead near his home carefully orchestrated events and e-mails to make it appear she had gone to see someone she met online, prosecutors said Thursday as they charged him with kidnapping. Michael Jacques, 42, could face the death penalty under federal law if convicted in the disappearance of Brooke Bennett. An autopsy has not confirmed whether the girl was killed.

Citing statements from another girl, prosecutors claim in an affidavit that Jacques tricked Brooke into thinking she was going to a party and instead took her to his Randolph home to initiate her into a child sex ring on June 25, the day she disappeared.

The girl's body was found Wednesday in a shallow grave near Jacques' house.

But no new evidence of a wider child sex ring has been found, beyond the claims of the 14-year-old that were released Wednesday in another affidavit unsealed in U.S. District Court in Burlington, officials said.

"There's nothing from this investigation that's been turned up, nor otherwise are federal and state authorities aware of, any ongoing efforts to recruit young girls or boys here in Vermont to have sex with adults," Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said at a news conference Thursday.

Authorities said they still weren't sure if there was a sex ring or whether there was a ruse Jacques might have used to intimidate the girls.

Michael Desautels, the federal public defender representing Jacques, didn't return calls Thursday.

Authorities say Jacques faked and altered postings to Brooke's MySpace pages in an effort to persuade investigators she planned to run off with someone she met through the social networking site.

The tampering was discovered by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, housed at the Burlington Police Department.

Jacques is charged under a federal law that provides for the death penalty in a kidnapping resulting in a child's death. In 1993, he was sentenced to six to 20 years in prison after being convicted of kidnapping and raping an 18-year-old woman he supervised at a Rutland restaurant, court records show. He successfully completed the state's sex offender treatment program in 2000 and was released from probation in 2006.

With autopsy results still pending, prosecutors said they could not say that Bennett was killed. If she was, U.S. Attorney Tom Anderson was asked whether 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.

The FBI affidavits support the charges against Jacques and against Bennett's former stepfather, Raymond Gagnon, who is charged with obstructing justice.

Allegations in the affidavits include a claim by a 14-year-old that, at the age of 9, she was a "program for sex" called "Breckenridge" and that a male relative was to be her trainer. The girl told police that she was told she'd be killed if she didn't cooperate.

The teenager told authorities that Brooke was to be inducted into the sex ring the day she disappeared.

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