WOONSOCKET – A federal grand jury Tuesday set the stage to make the shooting death and robbery of gas station manager David D. Main the state's first death penalty case in a decade.
The grand jury named Jason W. Pleau, 33, of Providence, Jose A. Santiago, 33, and Kelley M. Lajoie, 32, both of Springfield, Mass., on charges stemming from the murder, along with a “notice of special findings” needed to satisfy sentencing prerequisites in death penalty cases.
Pleau, Santiago and Lajoie were indicted on one count each of conspiracy; Hobbs Act robbery, or robbery affecting interstate commerce; and use of a firearm during a crime of violence, causing the death of another. The latter crime is punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison or death.
Pleau and Santiago had already been charged with capital crimes. But yesterday's indictments, announced by U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha, mark the first time Lajoie has been formally charged with a crime that carries the death penalty. She had previously been charged only with Hobbs Act robbery and conspiracy, both of which carry a maximum of two years in jail.
In a notice of special findings, the grand jury also determined that the actions of each defendant satisfied various conditions needed for the government to recommend the death sentence.
The least number of findings – three – was returned against Lajoie, including that she intentionally engaged in an act of violence with reckless disregard for human life and “knowingly created a grave risk of death” to another.
The largest number – eight – were returned against Pleau, including having killed Main following a conviction in state courts for two or more crimes in which he caused, or attempted to cause, the injury or death of another person.
But Jim Martin, a spokesman for Neronha, said the grand jury's actions do not mean Main's alleged killers will be sentenced to death, even if they are ultimately convicted of all the charges they are facing.
The final decision will be made by the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. Federal law requires the justice department to seat a review committee to consider whether the death penalty is appropriate.
“The indictment returned by the grand jury today contains charges that are death-penalty-eligible against each of the defendants,” Martin said. “The Department of Justice protocol will be followed closely as the case moves forward and a determination is made whether or not to seek the death penalty.”
Main, 49, a Lincoln resident, was the manager of the Shell station on Diamond Hill Road for several months before Pleau, the trigger man, chased him down, robbed him and shot him in the head outside the nearby Citizens bank on Sept. 20, federal prosecutors say.
Papers released by the Neronha's office yesterday paint the most detailed picture yet of how the defendants planned the crime.
Two days before the murder, Santiago and Lajoie acquired the getway vehicle – a white 1996 Ford Econoline box truck, while Pleau obtained a .38-caliber revolver. On the day of the crime, the three drove to the Shell station in Pleau's 1998 Chevy Malibu and observed Main's car parked outside.
Santiago and Pleau later traveled in the box truck to Village Road, accessible from a patch of woods behind Citizens Bank. Pleau later left the truck and hid in the parking lot of Citizens Bank, waiting for Main to arrive. Lajoie stayed behind at the Shell station, maintaining a lookout to determine when Main was leaving.
As Main departed the Shell station with a satchel of cash, Lajoie alerted Pleau by phone. When Main reached the bank, Pleau emerged from his hiding spot wearing a ski mask, pointing the revolver at Main and demanding the money.
Main tried to run away, but Pleau fired “multiple times” at the victim, striking him in the head with at least one round. As Main lay dying a few feet from the entrance to the bank, Pleau seized the money bag, which contained about $12,542 in cash receipts from the service station.
Pleau then ran through the woods to the white truck and he and Santiago fled to Pleau's apartment on Lisbon Street in Providence. Lajoie later joined them to divvy up the take from the robbery.
The three later wiped down the truck in attempts to remove their fingerprints. Pleau discarded the empty money bag in the Woonasquatucket River in Providence.
Though the harshest penalty the state may impose is life without parole, the federal courts still have the power to impose the death penalty in Rhode Island.
But the last time anyone was put to death was in 1845, when the state hanged an Irish immigrant named John Gordon for the murder of an influential industrialist. Questions over the strength of the evidence led to the repeal of the death penalty seven years later.
Lawmakers reinstated the death penalty after the slaying of a corrections officer in 1973, but the state Supreme Court outlawed capital punishment in 1979.
On the federal side, however, prosecutors pushed for the death penalty against five men accused in the execution-style slayings of Amy Shute, 21, and Jason Burgeson, 20, in 2000. Four pleaded guilty in return for life sentences, and the judge presiding in the trial of the fifth relinquished jurisdiction to the state courts.