Six years after he was arrested for one of the most notorious crimes in Vermont history, Randolph resident Michael Jacques rose inside a packed courtroom gallery this morning and apologized.
With the family of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett, the niece that he drugged, raped and murdered in the summer of 2008, looking on, Jacques offered his first public comments about the saga that triggered Vermont's first Amber Alert and prompted lawmakers to rewrite the state's sex offender laws.
"I realize that few people are likely to care what I have to say," Jacques said in U.S. District Court, minutes before he was sent to federal prison on a life sentence. "Nothing I could ever say could compare to what I've done. My abuse of trust is unfathomable. I was welcomed ... into a family that graciously gave me love and I gave them tragedy and pain in return. I live with what I've done every hour of every day, and I should. The victims live with what I have done every hour of every day, and they shouldn't have to. Yes, I am guilty, and I alone am the reason you feel pain today. And for that I am very sorry, and very ashamed."
As a legal proceeding, today's sentencing hearing was largely devoid of drama: In reciting the narrative of Jacques' crime, Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Nolan offered little information that hadn't already been included in hundreds of pages of court papers filed in the past six years. And the outcome of the hearing was never really in doubt: Judge William Sessions III imposed the sentence — life plus 70 years — agreed to by attorneys last year in a plea bargain that spared Jacques a possible death penalty.
But the hearing offered Brooke's family opportunity to speak. They offered poignant remembrances of an outgoing girl about to enter the eighth grade, and pointed barbs at the man who killed her.
Brooke's mother, Cassandra Adams of Braintree, spoke of giving birth to Brooke, and remembered a little girl who played with dolls, went on field trips and made friends easily. Then Adams shifted, turning her focus to Jacques.
"You coward, look at me," Adams said. Jacques appeared to comply, and Adams continued.
"May you gasp, choke, plead for your life," she said. "I hate you, I despise you, and you make me physically ill. You're a monster."
As she took her seat back in the gallery, Adams veered close to the defendant's table, looked at Jacques again and yelled, "Coward."
Brooke's grandmother, Lucinda Milne of Braintree, spoke to Jacques with her voice shaking.
"You used the people you loved to complete your dirty plan," Milne said. "What was your plan? Did you gain some satisfaction? Did you accomplish your mission? I can't understand what you were trying to do. Brooke Marie was a beautiful little girl... Rot in prison Michael. Hell is waiting for you."
Throughout the hearing, Jacques kept his head down, though at times he looked at the people speaking to him.
The hearing brought to an end a six-year saga that horrified the state.
For four years, Jacques had repeatedly raped a girl by convincing her that she had been inducted into a secret society known as "Breckenridge," in which children had sex with adult members. Jacques sent the girl, known in court documents as 'J1,' letters and emails in the guise of Breckenridge operatives, and she believed her parents would be murdered if she told police. (The girl knew Jacques — as a general practice, Seven Days does not identify victims of alleged sex crimes.)
In the summer of 2008, Jacques used the girl, by then 14, to help lure Brooke, whom he claimed had been "designated for termination," by Breckenridge.
Using the 14-year-old, he lured Brooke to his home in Randolph by claiming they were holding a pool party that several of Brooke's friends, including a boy she had a crush on, were attending. (Jacques, pronounced 'Jakes,' was married to the sister of Brooke's mother.)
Instead, once in the house, Jacques drugged Brooke, raped her repeatedly, and suffocated her with a plastic shopping bag. He buried her body in a shallow grave in the woods a mile away, near a sugar house his family used when he was a boy.
Jacques was a registered sex offender who had raped four underage girls and two women prior to Brooke's death, but had been offered short sentences and, in one case, a deferred sentence that was expunged from his record. Two years before killing Brooke, Jacques was discharged from probation on a rape conviction, with a probation officer characterizing him as a success story.
In response to Brooke's death, lawmakers passed a package of reforms designed to make it easier to prosecute sex crimes and provide for longer sentences.
"This case should put to rest the notion that child sexual predators like Michael Jacques should be ... reintroduced into society," Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Nolan said during the hearing. "There is no treatment for people like Michael Jacques. Jacques 'crimes against Brooke and J1 leave us speechless, empty and ill."
Prosecutors have said their decision to abandon their pursuit of the death penalty for Jacques — a move approved by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder- was made in part to spare J1 from having to testify in the trial.
Jacques' attorney, David Rhunke, declined to comment after the hearing.
Along with a dozen members of Brooke's family, the courtroom was packed with leading law enforcement figures, including Vermont State Police Col. Tom L'Esperance, U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin, and Attorney General Bill Sorrell, along with the state police investigators who worked the case.