PROVIDENCE (AP) â€” A tug-of-war over an inmate in Rhode Island custody in a possible death penalty case escalated Wednesday as Gov. Lincoln Chafee said he will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal court ruling allowing the inmate to stand trial in federal court
Chafee said the court's close vote shows a split in the interpretation of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act, which allows governors to refuse to surrender inmates. The U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals voted 3-2 on Monday that Jason Pleau, 34, may stand trial in federal court where he faces a possible death penalty prosecution over a fatal robbery.
Rhode Island does not have the death penalty.
The governor invoked the concept of states' rights in the fight over Pleau, who is accused of fatally shooting a gas station manager outside a Woonsocket bank in 2010.
"Given the close vote of the full court, which demonstrates a genuine split in the interpretation of the law, the state of Rhode Island must seek to protect both the strong states' rights issues at stake and the legitimacy of its longstanding public policy against the death penalty," Chafee said in a statement.
The Appeals Court in Boston sided with federal prosecutors, saying the state prison would serve as "a refuge against federal charges" if Pleau were allowed to remain in the custody of Rhode Island authorities.
The custody battle over Pleau dates to June 2011, when Chafee, an independent, refused a request to surrender him to federal authorities. Chafee said prosecutors want to try Pleau federally to make the death penalty a possible punishment.
The Appeals Court ruling said that if Pleau and Chafee prevail, Pleau could be permanently immune from federal prosecution and the use of the detainer system would be badly compromised,
Federal prosecutors have not said whether Pleau would face the death penalty if convicted of killing 49-year-old David Main. Rhode Island-based U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha said in a statement after the Appeals Court ruling that his office is ready to move forward with the case.
A spokesman for Neronha would not comment on Chafee's announcement.
Robert Mann, one of Pleau's lawyers, said he is grateful for the governor's decision to appeal.
Main's sister, Deborah Smith, told Chafee in an email Tuesday that his fight to keep Pleau in state custody is "obstructing justice." She told the governor it is time to stop wasting taxpayers' money.
Chafee said he regrets that the case continues to cause pain for Main's family.
"I extend once again my most sincere condolences to them for their terrible loss, which resulted from such a senseless crime," he said.