MONTPELIER – The uncle of a missing 12-year-old Braintree girl found dead this week could face the death penalty if convicted of a federal kidnapping charge, police and prosecutors said Thursday.
Michael Jacques, 42, of Randolph Center is expected to appear in U.S. District Court as early as next week to face the kidnapping charge in the death of his niece, Brooke Bennett.
Her body was discovered Wednesday near his home, one week after she went missing.
U.S. Attorney Thomas D. Anderson said Thursday morning that an autopsy was being conducted on Bennett that day to reveal a cause of death. But he would not comment if there could further charges against Jacques or other individuals.
"This is far from over," Anderson said at a Burlington news conference. "Much work remains to be done and we will work tirelessly until it is complete."
Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said prosecutors would drop aggravated sexual assault charges against Jacques in a separate case that arose from Bennett's disappearance and death. Those charges could be brought against Jacques again, he said, but for now authorities are focusing on the federal kidnapping charge.
That charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison or death, although that outcome is at the discretion of the attorney general of the United States, prosecutors said. Jacques is still being held on $250,000 bail at the Springfield prison.
This is not the first time Jacques has been in trouble. 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.
Sorrell stressed that police are still looking into allegations that Jacques was operating a child sex ring, but stressed that authorities do not believe any other children are in danger right now.
"If evidence is uncovered that poses a risk to the public … we will be the first to raise the alarm bells," Sorrell said.
Thursday's announcement was the latest in a series of stunning developments since the June 25 disappearance of Bennett, who had just finish seventh grade at Randolph Union High School, triggering Vermont's first ever Amber Alert. She would have been 13 on July 12.
Almost immediately, police seemed to focus on her uncle, a convicted sex offender who told authorities that he dropped Bennett off at a Cumberland Farms in Randolph that morning to meet a friend.
Based on early allegations, police said this week that they believe Jacques, with the help of another juvenile female, later picked Bennett up again and brought her to his home, possibly to be initiated into a child sex ring called the Breckenridge Program. Jacques and the juvenile allegedly told Bennett she was going to a party.
An unsealed police affidavit released Thursday reveals a chain of e-mails between Jacques and the other female teenager, whom police refer to as "Juvenile 1," which make their motives less clear. These correspondences, which date back to May, reveal a sexual relationship between Jacques and this second girl, according to police.
In these e-mails — some of them using phony e-mail addresses and characters — Jacques expresses love for the girl, including discussing having a child with her, and also appears to encourage her to flirt with and have sex with other men, including a juvenile boyfriend.
In various e-mails sent days before Bennett's disappearance, again using phony identities, Jacques appears to lay out his plans for kidnapping his niece and encourages the second girl to participate, according to the affidavit.
"I'm thinking that you could help hold her down or whatever while he gets her all bound up and ready to go upstairs," Jacques allegedly wrote to her, using a phony e-mail identity, on June 20. "If you are really against it, let me know, but I think you can handle it."
According to the affidavit, the juvenile girl responded in e-mails that she was willing to help with Bennett's kidnapping. She added that she wanted Bennett to suffer and "see how she likes it," according to the e-mails.
Police would not say Thursday if that second female is in protective custody. The girl, who first allegedly lied to police about her involvement, later said that she last saw Bennett at Jacques home that day she disappeared.
Jacques allegedly used two e-mails and a separate identity named Rauel Domingo in the e-mails to the teenage girl. But police said forensic analysis reveals that the accounts for the two e-mails were only accessed at Jacques' home and work.
"Moreover, on several occasions, the email accounts were accessed from the same location (either the home or the business) immediately after each other," wrote Daniel Rachek, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in the affidavit.
The e-mails also reveal Jacques' alleged plot to steer suspicion away from him in Bennett's disappearance.
In addition to making an alleged misleading posting on the girl's MySpace profile, he also allegedly planted evidence – including one of Bennett's shoes, human blood and semen, a pair of torn girl's underwear and a handkerchief – on the side of a road in Brookfield.
Police said Jacques told them he discovered the shoe on the road the day after Bennett disappeared and that discovery led to police finding the other items in the nearby woods. A DNA test revealed that the semen did not belong to Jacques and e-mails uncovered in the investigation show him asking the female juvenile to collect some of her boyfriend's semen on a handkerchief for him to plant at the scene, police said.
"Text me when it's done and simply say 'it's done,'" Jacques allegedly wrote to the girl in a June 23 e-mail. "Very important, thanks."
Contact Daniel Barlow at Daniel.Barlow@rutlandherald.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.MORE IN Central VermontThe following is a sampling of calls to Montpelier police. Full Story
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