Vermont's #1 Story for 2008 is one of Avoidable Tragedy
Although many of the same high profile national stories of 2008 had as much of an impact on Vermont as any other state, such as soaring gas prices, a faltering economy (recession), according to the Bennington Banner "the biggest story in Vermont in 2008 was the tragic death of a young girl, and its disturbing aftermath: The killing of 12-year-old Brooke Bennett was voted the top story of the year by Vermont news organizations." The economy's meltdown was second while "the presidential campaign of Barack Obama and a variety of developments on the Vermont Yankee (nuclear power plant) front tied for fifth place".
This story of Brooke's disappearence and tragic death was shocking in many ways not the least of which was that it could have been avoided because "Nearly as shocking as her disappearance and death was the arrest of her uncle, two-time sex offender Michael Jacques, who'd been released early from probation in a previous sex case after being called a success story."
"Outrage over the state's handling of his prior case fueled a review by Vermont lawmakers of existing statutes governing sex crimes, with a legislative panel eventually releasing a package of proposals that recommends 25-year mandatory minimums for a new crime of aggravated sexual assault on a victim under 16."
"The Braintree girl disappeared June 25, triggering Vermont's first-ever Amber Alert and a furious search by police, rescue workers and volunteers that ended July 2 with the discovery of her body in a shallow grave in Randolph. "
"Prosecutors say Jacques concocted a sordid plot in which he used her MySpace page and fictitious e-mail identities to orchestrate the abduction, tricking the girl into thinking she was going to a party before taking her to his home to initiate her into a child sex ring.
He drugged, sexually assaulted and smothered her with a plastic bag, according to federal prosecutors, who are still weighing whether to seek the death penalty. He has pleaded not guilty."
Bennett's killing wasn't the only violent crime in the headlines in 2008 for Vermont.
"Three men convicted in murder cases drew life prison terms:
—Howard Godfrey, 62, was sentenced for the 1991 slaying of Patricia Scoville in Stowe, a crime that went unsolved for more than a decade until a DNA match linked him. Scoville, 28, had moved to Vermont three weeks before disappearing while out on a bicycle ride.
—Christopher Williams, 29, who shot two people to death and wounded two others in a 2006 shooting rampage in Essex, was sentenced to three life terms.
—Brian Rooney, 38, went on trial for the 2006 killing of Michelle Gardner-Quinn, 21, a University of Vermont senior who was raped and slain after disappearing from a downtown Burlington street during the college's parents' weekend. A jury convicted him and sentenced him to life without parole.
The climax of another disappearance came in Otter Creek in Middlebury, where searchers May 27 found the body of Nicholas Garza, a 19-year-old Middlebury College freshman from Albuquerque, N.M., who vanished Feb. 5 after leaving a dormitory.
His badly decomposed body was found among sunken timbers in a floating debris pile below a waterfall, capping a mystery that had stumped searchers, family members and college officials. Foul play wasn't suspected."
Previous stories on the subject:
both written by Rhonda J Mangus