PROVIDENCE â€” After winning a months-long tug-of-war with Gov. Lincoln Chafee to gain custody of Jason Wayne Pleau, U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha announced Monday that he intends to seek the death penalty against Pleau for allegedly murdering David Main of Lincoln outside a Woonsocket bank in September, 2010.
Among the reasons listed by Neronha in asking for a death sentence for Pleau was a long list of violent crimes committed by Pleau, 34, dating back to 1996, some while he was on parole for other offenses. These include an armed robbery at Chanâ€™s Restaurant in Woonsocket the month before the Main murder, several other robberies and attempted robberies and two felony assaults, one on an ACI guard in March, 2000.
Pleau, who grabbed a bank deposit bag containing more than $12,000 from Main as he laid on the bank sidewalk with multiple gunshot wounds, has spent 12 years, more than one-third of his life, in prison. In his notice to seek the death penalty, Neronha noted that Pleau has not expressed remorse and has â€śdemonstrated a low potential for rehabilitation.â€ť
The decision to seek the death penalty had to be approved by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge William Smith ordered the government
Main, who was 49 years-old at the time of his death, was manager of a Shell gas station on Diamond Hill Road, just down the street from the Citizens Bank where he was killed while trying to deposit business receipts.
Pleau is charged with conspiring, planning and carrying out the crime with a Massachusetts couple, Jose Santiago and Kelley Lajoie. Lajoie pled guilty to conspiracy, robbery and murder charges last December. In May, Santiago asked the judge for a new lawyer to represent him.
Shortly after Main was killed, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin filed state charges against Pleau, then promptly dropped them to allow federal prosecutors to have jurisdiction.
But Gov. Lincoln Chafee, exercising what he said were his powers under the federal Interstate Agreement on Detainers, refused to turn Pleau over to the feds, citing Rhode Islandâ€™s long opposition to the death penalty.
A U.S. District Court judge ordered Pleau to be handed over to federal authorities, but Chafee appealed that decision before a panel of First District Appeals Court judges and won a 2-1 decision. After that, however the full complement of appeals court judges overturned that ruling on a 3-2 vote and federal authorities took custody of Pleau, who was at that time at the ACI serving out the remainder of an 18-year sentence because the robbery and murder charges violated his parole.
Chafee has commissioned a Washington DC-based law firm, working for no fee, to pursue an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer last month refused a request to stay the appeals court decision pending action in the high court.
Chafee issued a statement Monday that said, â€śI always knew that it was possible the federal government would seek the death penalty in this matter and for that reason, I opposed the transfer of Jason Pleau to federal custody.
â€śUnder the federal Interstate Agreement on Detainers law,â€ť the governor added, â€śstates have the right to refuse to transfer prisoners in their custody for public policy reasons. As a matter of public policy, Rhode Island opposes the death penalty for any crime.â€ť
Chafee said the Supreme Court appeal will continue.
â€śToday's decision does not alter the state's position,â€ť he said, â€śand we will continue to vindicate Rhode Island's rights under federal law. The law firm of Akin Gump will pursue this case pro bono in the Supreme Court of the United States.â€ť
The Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU declared in a statement of its own: â€śWe are very disheartened by the federal government's decision to seek the death penalty in a state that was one of the first to abolish it over 150 years ago. Since the defendant has already agreed to serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole, this decision can only be seen as an act of governmental vengeance, not justice.
â€śWe fully appreciate the loss the victim's family has suffered,â€ť the statement continued, â€śbut the Department of Justice should not be seeking to override a century and a half of state policy merely for the pleasure of seeking the ultimate retribution against a defendant.â€ť