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Jacques’ Lawyers Want to Move Trial

Attorneys for the Randolph man accused of abducting and murdering his 12-year-old niece have for the second time requested that his trial be moved out of Vermont, saying intense media coverage of the 2008 incident makes it impossible to find an impartial jury.

Michael Jacques’ attorneys cited recent comments left by readers on The Burlington Free Press website under a story updating the latest legal maneuvering in the case. Some commenters voiced hatred for Jacques and suggested they would misrepresent their feelings during jury selection to try to get a seat on the panel.

Among the comments:

“Pick me pick me, I have a strong rope attached to a tall oak tree, just waiting to see Jacques swinging in the wind!! Pick me!!”

“Hopefully I’m picked and show my loving side to the Jacques lawyers to get on that case.”

“I have not once been called to jury duty. Maybe this time? I would LOVE to be on this jury. I can pretend to be impartial.”

Attorneys said that the comments showed that prejudice against Jacques, 46, is widespread in Vermont.

“The demonstrable and pervasive animosity is unheard of in the defense counsel’s experience, as is the announced intention of these individuals to perpetrate a fraud upon the Court and to subvert Mr. Jacques’ right to an impartial jury,” attorneys Jean Barrett and David Ruhnke wrote in a motion filed in U.S. District Court in Burlington.

Barrett and Ruhnke are veteran death penalty attorneys: Ruhke has represented several terrorist defendants, including Syed Hashmi, an American citizen arrested in London’s Heathrow Airport and charged with aiding al-Qaida terrorists who were targeting American troops in Afghanistan.

Federal prosecutors have not filed a response, but have already fended off a request to move the case out of Vermont. In 2009, Judge William Sessions ruled that, while publicity has been extensive, it did not “present the kind of vivid, unforgettable information that is particularly likely to produce prejudice.”

In June 2008, Jacques, a convicted sex offender, allegedly raped Brooke Bennett before suffocating her with a plastic bag and burying her in the nearby woods. After a week-long search triggered by Vermont’s first Amber Alert, police found Brooke’s body.

Jacques, who has pleaded not guilty to a charge of kidnapping, death resulting, could face the death penalty if convicted.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin in September. Earlier this month, Sessions said as many as 5,000 Vermonters may have to appear in court and be vetted as jurors in order to find an unbiased panel.

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