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Randolph Seethes at Plea Deal: Many Wanted Jacques Tried, Executed

  • Josh Warner, 18, of Randolph, Vt., a former classmate of Brooke Bennett, returns to his truck after picking up a meal in Randolph Saturday, Aug., 10, 2013. "I think he should've got the needle," said Warner of Michael Jacques who plans to plead guilty to Bennett's 2008 murder to avoid the death penalty. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    Josh Warner, 18, of Randolph, Vt., a former classmate of Brooke Bennett, returns to his truck after picking up a meal in Randolph Saturday, Aug., 10, 2013. "I think he should've got the needle," said Warner of Michael Jacques who plans to plead guilty to Bennett's 2008 murder to avoid the death penalty.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

  • Flowers and mementos surround the grave of Brooke Bennett in a Royalton Cemetery Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013. Michael Jacques who is accused of the rape and murder of Bennett will plead guilty all counts to avoid the death penalty.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    Flowers and mementos surround the grave of Brooke Bennett in a Royalton Cemetery Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013. Michael Jacques who is accused of the rape and murder of Bennett will plead guilty all counts to avoid the death penalty.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

  • Charity Salls reads the news of Michael Jacques plan to plead guilty to the 2008 rape and murder of his niece Brooke Bennett at her restaurant Wright at Home Cafe in Randolph, Vt. Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com

    Charity Salls reads the news of Michael Jacques plan to plead guilty to the 2008 rape and murder of his niece Brooke Bennett at her restaurant Wright at Home Cafe in Randolph, Vt. Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    jpatterson@vnews.com
    photo@vnews.com Purchase photo reprints »

  • Josh Warner, 18, of Randolph, Vt., a former classmate of Brooke Bennett, returns to his truck after picking up a meal in Randolph Saturday, Aug., 10, 2013. "I think he should've got the needle," said Warner of Michael Jacques who plans to plead guilty to Bennett's 2008 murder to avoid the death penalty. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com
  • Flowers and mementos surround the grave of Brooke Bennett in a Royalton Cemetery Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013. Michael Jacques who is accused of the rape and murder of Bennett will plead guilty all counts to avoid the death penalty.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com
  • Charity Salls reads the news of Michael Jacques plan to plead guilty to the 2008 rape and murder of his niece Brooke Bennett at her restaurant Wright at Home Cafe in Randolph, Vt. Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>jpatterson@vnews.com<br/>photo@vnews.com
Michael Jacques appears in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea, Vt., on June 30, 2008. (AP Photo/Pool, Stefan Hard)

Michael Jacques appears in Orange Superior Court in Chelsea, Vt., on June 30, 2008. (AP Photo/Pool, Stefan Hard)

By yesterday morning, it seemed to be news to no one here that prosecutors had struck a plea deal with Michael Jacques — the former town resident accused of kidnapping, raping and killing his 12-year-old niece — and would not seek to have him executed.

The decision to allow Jacques to serve life in prison without parole for the June 2008 slaying of Brooke Bennett, which was announced late Friday, was met with nearly the same reaction everywhere in Randolph yesterday — anger.

“I think he should get the death penalty for what he did,” said Duane Litchfield while making a routine stop hauling trash near the train station. “It was quite an ordeal to put the family through. Why should he get to sit in prison? He took the rest of her life. Kind of a dirty way for him to get out of it. Yeah, it will be closure, but it isn’t really, because (the family) knows he’s sitting there, and we’re supporting him for the rest of his life. I feel they should string him up.”

Litchfield’s feelings — anger that Jacques will not suffer the ultimate punishment, frustration that he will live his days in a taxpayer-funded facility — were widely shared.

“I’m pretty disgusted,” said Charity Salls inside her restaurant, Wright at Home Cafe. “(Brooke) didn’t get a choice. He shouldn’t either. People are going to be very angry. To me, it says I can go out and rape and murder someone, and the federal government is going to pay for me to have cable (in my cell), free meals. It’s the way the judicial system works in this country — slap on the wrist.”

Al Floyd’s general store in East Randolph, only a couple of miles from where Brooke was killed and buried, was buzzing yesterday morning with talk of the prosecutors’ decision.

Floyd said he and his customers were nearly unanimous in their views: Jacques should have been put on trial, found guilty, then executed.

“Why didn’t they do it five years ago?” Floyd asked. “I’d like to know how much his lawyers made. I think most people will feel we shouldn’t spend the money to feed the guy. I would rather see him dead.”

Prosecutors said Jacques, a convicted sex offender, coerced a teenage girl he had been sexually abusing to help him lure Brooke, who lived in Braintree, Vt., to his home on East Bethel Road in Randolph in late June 2008.

There, he drugged and raped Brooke, suffocated her with a plastic bag and buried her in a shallow grave near his home, police said.

Her body was discovered a week later, after her disappearance triggered Vermont’s first Amber Alert.

Jacques, who previously had been convicted of sexually assaulting four underage girls and two adults, initially pleaded not guilty to a charge of kidnapping, death resulting.

But on Friday, just weeks before jury selection in his murder trial was scheduled to begin, prosecutors announced the plea deal, under which Jacques will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole and will forfeit any appeals.

Prosecutors said Friday that Jacques will plead guilty to all the charges he faces. A hearing has been set for Thursday in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

The decision to offer Jacques a plea deal was motivated, in part, because prosecutors said they wanted to spare the teenage girl Jacques had coerced into helping him the ordeal of taking the witness stand.

Brooke’s mother, Cassandra Adams, and her father, Jim Bennett, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Interviews in Randolph yesterday revealed how, five years after the crime put their town in the national spotlight, many still speak of a personal connection to Brooke and her family.

Litchfield said he has known the family for decades, and is close with Brooke’s grandmother, Lucinda Milne.

Salls’ daughter was friends with Brooke, and they attended a candlelight vigil on the night in July 2008 when Brooke’s body was found.

Martha Lawrence said she grew up with Jacques’ grandfather and, as a justice of the peace, presided over the wedding of Jim Bennett to Brooke’s former stepmother, while young Brooke looked on.

“(Brooke) must have been 7 years old, and she was beautiful in her little white dress,” Lawrence said. “I will never forget how beautiful she was.”

Despite her personal attachment to Brooke, Lawrence said, she was torn about whether she supported the prosecutors’ decision.

“I feel two ways. It’s a drain on taxpayers to keep him in jail like that, but the death penalty bothers me, even though I know he deserves it in a lot of ways,” Lawrence said.

“My husband thinks he should be taken into the street and shot. I am conflicted. I’m not big on killing people, which is what the death penalty would be.”

But most others in town were simply angry.

“Shoot him,” Bunk Durkee said outside a downtown gas station.

“Your own relative? A little girl like that? She was the most gorgeous little thing in the world. Let him walk down the street, he’ll never make it. The world has gone crazy.”

Town moderator Kelly Green, a defense attorney, said not everyone in Randolph disagreed with prosecutors’ decision to abandon their push for capital punishment.

“I think people have mixed reactions,” Green said. “There are a lot of people in town who think no one should be executed, that the federal government shouldn’t execute anybody. Michael Jacques is a dangerous guy, repeat offender. He needs to be kept off the streets. But the death penalty is absolutely wrong.”

Though many residents pointed to the cost of keeping Jacques in prison as one source of their anger, it is generally accepted in criminal justice circles that executing a convicted criminal, with its years of appeals, is more expensive than housing an inmate for life without parole.

In a 2012 survey, the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center found it costs about $34,000 a year to house a federal inmate in a high-security facility.

At that rate, if Jacques, 47, were to live 30 more years, his life sentence would cost taxpayers a little more than $1 million.

Conversely, a 2006 study by Columbia Law School found that cases ending in capital punishment cost between $2.5 million and $5 million. Florida, the study found, spent between $25 million and $50 million more a year on capital cases than it would have if it had sentenced all convicted murderers to life in prison without parole.

As he climbed into his car on Route 12, Michael Bly said he was one of the few people who thought Jacques should remain in prison.

“I would like to see him in jail. The death penalty is too easy,” Bly said. “I think the death penalty lets people off the hook.”

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.

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