Defense tries to block death penalty in Vt. case
MONTPELIER — Lawyers for a Vermont man accused of raping and killing a 12-year-old girl are renewing their bid to block the death penalty from being applied if he’s convicted.
In a new court filing, defense attorneys for Michael Jacques say America’s capital punishment system is broken, and rebut contentions by prosecutors that the death penalty is appropriate in the case against Jacques, who’s accused in the 2008 slaying of a niece, Brooke Bennett of Braintree, Vt.
They asked the US District Court in Burlington to hold a hearing so a judge can rule on the issue. No date has been set.
Jacques, 44, is charged with kidnapping with death resulting and two counts of child pornography. A convicted sex offender, he is accused of drugging, raping, and killing the girl, who disappeared June 25, 2008, after leaving a convenience store. Prosecutors say Jacques used a 14-year-old girl he had been sexually abusing to lure Brooke to his home for a pool party. She was found dead a week later, her body buried in a shallow grave near the suspect’s home.
In March, lawyers for Jacques filed a 186-page motion asking a judge to block the use of the death penalty in his case, calling its application capricious and discriminatory.
Federal prosecutors responded that the law complies with US Supreme Court mandates, and that discrepancies in the ultimate outcome of death penalty cases doesn’t mean the law governing them is unconstitutional.
In a filing last week, Jacques’s defense attorneys —David Ruhnke and Jean Barrett, New Jersey lawyers who specialize in defending death penalty cases, and Michael Desautels — said federal law is unevenly applied to minority suspects, and is vulnerable to allowing innocent people to be executed.
They also asked the court to bar testimony about the suspect’s criminal history from the penalty phase of his trial — if Jacques is convicted — on the grounds it would unfairly “demonize’’ him.
US Attorney Tristram Coffin, Vermont’s top federal prosecutor, said yesterday he is confident the defense’s arguments, which have been made in other death penalty cases, would not prevail.