In Memory of Brooke: Never Again

Never again. Never again. Those were the words that Reverend Tom Hardy repeated to those of us who attended Brooke Bennetts funeral last Wednesday. 12-year-old Brooke was kidnapped June 25 and found murdered, in Randolph, one week later. Reverend Hardy said many profound and comforting words the morning of Brookes funeral. He told the mourners, We come here as a gathered community today to say, Never again. Say it with me. Never again. One more time. Never again. We come here to pledge ourselves to that reality. We come here as a community, as a state, and as a nation to say, Never again. I have known Reverend Tom for many years; he seemed to look right at the Governor and me when he challenged our state to respond in a just and appropriate way. I am lucky enough to have a friend who was Brookes classmate in school. She tells me Brooke was a special person, one of just 9 members of next years eighth grade class. Her family, her community and our state are in the midst of processing the tragic reality of her abduction and murder. We learned revelations about her accused kidnappers record of violent sexual abuse, beginning in the 1980s. Many of the details of Brookes final days are still under investigation and will be forthcoming. How do we respond in the appropriate way to Reverend Hardys challenging words: Never again. Never again? First let us vow to unite around one common question: HOW DO WE MAKE VERMONT SAFER FOR OUR CHILDERN? As a pilot, I have investigated many airplane crashes over the years. When someone dies in a crash, we recover the black box, and pore over every detail of evidence to learn what went wrong, and how we can prevent the same thing from happening again. We owe nothing less to Brooke Bennett, her family, and all the children in our state. I know that Vermonters from every walk of life feel as I do that we need to act to protect our states children from violent predators like those who brought young Brooke Bennetts young life to such a tragic end. As Vermonts Lt Governor, I call for: A comprehensive review of our criminal justice system. I call for a thorough investigation of Vermont's laws and policies that should protect Vermonts children from sex offenders. Adoption of a Jessicas Law, which would set a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for a first-time convicted child sexual abuser. Our law could be modeled on New Hampshires law that includes a presumptive clause, for cases where the evidence is weak or the victim chooses not to testify. It allows a judge to impose a lesser term, accompanied by explanation of the decision. We would essentially be strengthening Vermonts current law, which has a presumptive 10-year minimum sentence and a 5-year minimum mandatory sentence. A mandatory life sentence for a second-time violent sexual offense against a child. Passage of a civil confinement law that would extend prison stays for certain high-risk offenders who have served their terms, but who by clear criteria are known to be highly likely to re-offend. Utilizing chemical castration and physical castration treatments for habitual sex offenders Broadening the criteria for listing child predators on Vermonts Online Sex Offender Registry, and making it more user-friendly, as it is in other states, and for better monitoring of sex offenders using GPS technology. Tough penalties for those who harbor a sex offender who violates registration requirements. Expansion and funding for Special Investigative Units, to improve conviction rates and sentencing. Adoption of laws that would allow evidence of prior sexual misconduct to be admissible in sex crimes cases, as it is in 12 other states and in federal court. Collection by law enforcement authorities of DNA samples from anyone arrested in our state that could assist in cracking unsolved sex crimes. I attended a vigil in Randolph for Brooke Bennett a week after she went missing. Hours earlier, we learned that her body had been found in a shallow grave. As I hugged her grieving mother, I thought, There's something terribly wrong when an innocent childs life ends so tragically. I met another mother that night. She told me that her child had been sexually assaulted, and that the news of Brookes disappearance and death was very painful for her daughter, reviving terrifying memories and opening old wounds. I wondered, How many others are struggling with old wounds this evening? In just over 39 months in Vermont, three young women have been kidnapped, raped, and murdered at the hands of sexual predators. The loss of a single young life is a tragedy; the loss of three in such a short time frame is something we cannot turn away from. We must do a better job in protecting the women and children of our state. One year ago, in July 2007, during the sentencing of Gerald Montgomery for the murder of Laura Winterbottom, Judge Michael Kupersmith told Montgomery, You are unfit to live among civilized people. The question now is: do we have to wait for a sexual predator to take a life before we determine that the predator is unfit to live freely in our communities? Whatever the mechanism or laws we choose to enhance our management of these sexual predators, we should all agree that the loss of three lives is more than ample evidence that our system needs immediate change before another innocent life is lost. I am launching a statewide citizen petition drive, calling for a criminal justice system-wide review to determine what we can do to better protect innocent lives from sexual predators. Vermonters want those who can fix the system to do it and do it quickly. It is the highest responsibility of government to protect those most vulnerable from those most dangerous. I would ask every Vermonter who believes that we must do more to protect our women and children to go to the Lt. Governors website and download, print, and circulate our petition. If you do not have access to a computer or the internet, then call or visit my office in Montpelier and ask for a copy of the petition. Together and as one, we can make Vermont a safer place for our children. Brian Dubie is Vermonts Lieutenant Governor. E-mail his office at martha.hanson@state.vt.us, or call 802-828-2226, or visit www.ltgov.vermont.gov

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