Bennett case sparks debate over how to reduce sexual violence

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(Host) The kidnapping and murder of a 12 year old Braintree girl last week has sparked a debate among Vermont’s political leaders about ways to reduce the incidence of sexual violence in the state.

We have two reports tonight starting with VPRs Bob Kinzel:

(Kinzel) For a number of years, Governor Jim Douglas has backed several major changes to Vermont’s criminal justice system.

He supports a civil commitment law that allows the state to keep a convicted sex offender in prison beyond their sentence if the individual hasn’t successfully completed a treatment program.

Douglas also wants lawmakers to pass Jessica’s law – a bill that would impose a 25 year mandatory minimum sentence for people convicted of sexually assaulting a child.

The governor says he won’t call a special legislative session to consider these issues because Democratic leaders haven’t supported them in the past and therefore a special session would be a waste of time:

(Douglas) "If I thought for a minute that the Legislative leaders would embrace a serious package of reforms that we’ve talked about this afternoon I’d have them here tomorrow."

Douglas also says he doesn’t oppose restoring the death penalty in Vermont to deal with crimes like the Brooke Bennett case:

(Douglas) "I think it should be on the table along with these other reforms we’ve got to take this as seriously as we possibly can …someone who’s put to death rather than back out on the street isn’t going to re-offend."

Senate president Peter Shumin said he’s disappointed that the governor is politicizing this issue and showing a lack of respect for the young victim’s family.

Shumlin says he’ll ask the Senate Judiciary committee to hold a series of hearings this fall to examine every aspect of this case:

(Shumlin) "A two day panic session never results in good legislation…we’re not to going to pander to Bill O’Reilly and the right wings of this country, we’re not going to exploit this tremendously tragic event that I think all Vermonters are horrified by."

House Speaker and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gaye Symington says she supports a comprehensive review of Vermont’s sex offender laws and she has some specific questions for the Douglas Administration:

(Symington) "The real question is how is that the Department of Corrections supported early probation and release of Mr. Jacques and how is it that we continue to not move forward with establishing special investigative units around the state."

The governor says he’s disappointed by his Corrections Department’s decision to support the early probationary release of the accused offender and he’s called for a full investigation into the matter.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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