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Vt. man accused of killing niece wants trial moved out of state

By John Curran
Associated Press / July 31, 2010

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MONTPELIER — Citing public anger and death threats, lawyers for a man charged with killing his 12-year-old niece say in a new court filing that it’s impossible for him to get a fair trial in Vermont.

Defense attorneys say Michael Jacques has been the subject of so much press coverage and such vitriolic online posts that his trial should be moved to Albany, N.Y., to escape juror bias. In a motion filed late Thursday, they said Jacques and his lawyers have been the subject of calls for death since he was charged in the 2008 slaying of Brooke Bennett of Braintree.

“If ever there was ever a case where a jury pool may be said to be presumptively biased, it is this one,’’ they said in a 16-page brief filed in US District Court in Burlington.

Jacques, a 44-year-old sex offender, is charged with kidnapping with death resulting and two child pornography counts in the slaying of the girl. Prosecutors say he drugged, raped, and killed Brooke after her June 25, 2008, disappearance from a Randolph convenience store.

He is being held without bail as he awaits trial.

Moving the trial out of Vermont “promises to reduce dramatically the potential pool of jurors who have been affected by all that has been written, filmed, blogged, broadcast, and said. Venue should be transferred to a district untainted by the publicity storm that has surrounded this case,’’ according to the brief, which was filed by public defender Michael Desautels and cocounsels David Ruhnke and Jean D. Barrett.

Prosecutors have said they believe Jacques can get a fair shake in Vermont. US Attorney Tristram Coffin, Vermont’s lead federal prosecutor, wouldn’t comment on the latest defense filing when contacted yesterday. But in a response to the defense’s original change-of-venue motion in May, prosecutors said it was premature to consider a different location. They said no ruling should be made until interviews of would-be jurors establish bias that can’t be overcome. Fair juries have been seated to hear other high-profile cases in Vermont, the government contends.

In the new defense filing, Jacques’s lawyers included 150 exhibits — newspaper articles, online stories, television and radio broadcasts, Facebook pages, Twitter tweets, and blog entries — to buttress their claims, many suggesting various modes for killing, maiming, or otherwise exacting revenge on Jacques, who has pleaded not guilty.

“If 100 prospective jurors were called into the courtroom, 80 of them would be aware of the case. If the same number were to be called to court in Albany [and most likely in any other district in the country] relatively few would have knowledge of the case,’’ the defense motion claims.

US District Judge William Sessions III hasn’t scheduled a hearing on the venue change motion or on a plea by Jacques’s lawyers to strike the death penalty as an option if he’s convicted.

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