Lawsuit says ex-wife of murder suspect negligent

Posted Oct. 17, 2011, at 9:49 p.m.
Last modified Oct. 17, 2011, at 10:12 p.m.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The father of a slain Braintree, Vt., girl has accused the suspect’s ex-wife of playing a role in her death by not protecting her.

The Vermont Supreme Court hears an appeal from James Bennett on Tuesday.

Bennett says he continues to suffer “severe mental anguish” over the death of his daughter, 12-year-old Brooke Bennett, whose body was found in a shallow grave on June 25, 2008, a week after she disappeared.

Michael Jacques, a convicted sex offender, is charged with abducting, sexually assaulting and then killing his niece after luring her to his Randolph home. Jacques’ ex-wife is the sister of Brooke’s mother.

In the lawsuit, Bennett has alleged that Denise Woodard, Jacques’ then-wife, “breached her duty to protect Brooke from the risk of harm” posed by Jacques.

Woodard “knew or should have known had she exercised reasonable care and diligence that her husband, Michael Jacques, was a predator who posed a direct threat to the minor child,” the lawsuit said.

“As a direct and proximate result of Defendant’s negligence, Brooke Bennett was caused to suffer significant apprehension, terror, pain, suffering, discomfort, grievous bodily harm and injury resulting in death,” the lawsuit said.

The Vermont Supreme Court will consider whether the home insurance policy of Woodard and Jacques should cover Woodard’s defense or pay Bennett for any damages that might be awarded if he were to win the lawsuit, which has not been decided.

A lower court had ruled in favor of the insurer, Co-operative Insurance Companies, saying the company is not required to defend and/or indemnify Woodard for the claims made against her.

“It’s Co-operative Insurance’s position that the homeowners’ insurance policy that was issued to Michael Jacques and Denise Woodard does not insure against the allegations made against Denise Woodard. We’re going to make arguments tomorrow before the Supreme Court and await their decision,” said Robin Cooley, an attorney for the insurer.

The Vermont Supreme Court will hear the appeal in the courthouse in Middlebury.

Woodard has denied the allegations, according to the Burlington Free Press. A lawyer for Bennett did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Jacques’ trial was slated for September but has been delayed by legal appeals.

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