A Family’s Unending Pain: Michael Jacques Pleads Guilty to 2008 Kidnapping and Killing
Jim Bennett, father of Brooke Bennett, walks with family members to his car escorted by Det. Sgt. John Hagen, left, and Det. Lt. Todd Illingsworth after attending a change of plea hearing for Michael Jacques in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vt., on August 27, 2013. Jacques plead guilty to abducting, raping and killing his niece Brooke Bennett in 2008 in order to avoid the possibility of receiving the death penalty. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
David Ruhnke, defense attorney for Michael Jacques, talks with reporters Tuesday, August 27, 2013 after Jacques entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Burlington, Vt. to the abduction, rape and murder of his niece Brooke Bennett in 2008.
Valley News - James M. Patterson
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Burlington — Even though it has been five years since Cassandra Adams buried her daughter, Brooke Bennett, there was still a part of her that held out hope that Brooke would come home alive some day.
Reality closed in on her Tuesday, however, after the man who killed her daughter publicly admitted his guilt.
“I’ve been lying to myself, thinking in the long run that she would be home,” Adams said in an interview Tuesday night. “That’s what I was honestly thinking. Now, I’m trying to reprocess the fact that she’s actually gone, and there’s not going to be an end to the pain, and I’m going to be living with this for the rest of my life.”
Michael Jacques, the man responsible for that pain, uttered his first public words about the kidnapping, rape and murder of his 12-year-old niece Tuesday during a hearing where he pleaded guilty to the 2008 crime.
After formally agreeing to a plea deal — first announced earlier this month — that will see him avoid the death penalty and serve life in prison without parole, Jacques listened in U.S. District Court as Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Nolan methodically described how the former Randolph man lured Brooke Bennett to her death with the help of another girl he had been sexually abusing for years.
“Mr. Jacques, is that what happened?” Judge William Sessions III asked, when Nolan finished his narrative.
“Afraid it is, sir,” Jacques said quietly, his first public acknowledgement of his role in a crime that prompted Vermont’s first Amber Alert and an overhaul of the state’s sex offender laws. Jacques was on the state’s sex offender registry when he killed Brooke.
Sessions then asked Jacques’ attorney, David Ruhnke, if he believed there was enough evidence to convict Jacques.
“Without a doubt, your honor,” Ruhnke said.
Jacques, 47, will be formally sentenced at a later date
Adams, Brooke's father, Jim Bennett, sister Savanna Andress and several other relatives attended yesterday’s hearing. They declined to comment as they left the federal building in downtown Burlington, flanked by three Vermont State Police troopers who investigated the case, as a dozen media members gave chase.
Jacques’ ex-wife, Denise Woodard, also attended the hearing and did not respond to a request for comment.
Reached reach by telephone at her home in Braintree last night, Adams said she had mixed feelings about the hearing, and the plea agreement that spared Jacques’ life.
“I’m still trying to take it all in,” Adams said. “I’ve got a lot of emotions right now. It went as well as it could go. I don’t know how it would have gone differently. I don’t know, I’ve got so much going on.”
After the hearing, Ruhnke told a pack of reporters, “We think this was a fair and enlightened way to resolve this case.”
Ruhnke declined further comment, saying the defense team would speak at greater length after the sentencing hearing.
Jacques, his angular face rounded out, was noticeably heavier than he was at the time of his arrest. He wore khakis and a hunter green sweater over a white dress shirt, and did not appear to make eye contact with anyone in the gallery and did not express any emotion during the moments when his face was visible.
As part of the plea deal, Jacques, who is being held in a federal prison in Brooklyn, surrendered any rights to an appeal. In exchange, prosecutors agreed not to take the case to trial, which was scheduled to begin next week, where Jacques could have been sentenced to death if convicted.
There were no surprises during the 45-minutes hearing. Sessions asked Jacques a series of perfunctory questions about the plea deal to which Jacques answered “Yes,” quietly, again and again.
Afterward, Nolan rose and for 15 minutes recapped a time line that culminated in a horrific crime:
In 2003, Jacques, already a registered sex offender, wrote a letter that claimed to be from a secret society known as “Breckenridge” to a young girl known in court papers as “J1.” The note said that J1, who knew Jacques, was one of three candidates to join the society, and that if she did not have sex with Jacques, who had been selected as her trainer, she would be killed.
“The inception of Brooke’s demise is found years earlier in Jacques’ abuse of ... J1,” Nolan said.
For the next five years, Jacques sent J1 text messages, emails and notes continuing the ruse. The messages claimed to be from other secret society members and ordered her to submit to Jacques, threatening to kill members of her family if she did not comply.
In one instance, while J1’s mother was away on a business trip, a letter stated that “Breckenridge agents” were following her mother and would kill her if J1 did not comply.
“JI believed if she ever revealed what was happening, she would be killed,” Nolan said.
By June 2008, Jacques had decided to target Brooke, and used J1, who was by then a young teenager and friends with Brooke, to help.
To lure Brooke, he sent a text message from J1’s phone that was purportedly forwarded from a boy Brooke had a crush on, making it appear the boy wanted her to attend a pool party at Jacques’ home. J1 sent the fake message to Brooke.
“OMG, he really sent those to you?” Brooke replied. “That’s awesome.”
Brooke wrote in her diary about the boy — she wrote her name and his name inside a heart — and transcribed the text message.
When she went to Jacques’ home on East Bethel Road in Randolph for the party, there was no one else there aside from J1 and Jacques, who ordered J1 to leave.
Jacques sexually assaulted Brooke, wrapped a plastic grocery bag around her head and suffocated and strangled her. He buried her in a shallow grave in the woods a mile away, near a sugar shack he often visited as a boy.
J1, after much prodding, eventually told what she knew to investigators, who had spent the first few days believing Brooke may have run away.
“It took considerable time and effort to persuade (J1) that Breckenridge was a fiction,” Nolan said.
Jacques pleaded guilty to kidnapping, death resulting, four charges of producing child pornography, and one charge of possessing child pornography. The child pornography charges stemmed from the abuse of J1.
Technically, Jacques faces life without parole, plus an additional 70 years. He will be formally sentenced at a later date, during a hearing where he will be given an opportunity to make a statement.
Mark Davis can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3304.