PROVIDENCE – A federal appeals court has upheld Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s right to refuse to turn over accused murderer Jason Pleau for federal prosecution that could result in the death penalty.
Chafee stirred controversy last June when he invoked Rhode Island’s longstanding opposition to capital punishment as a reason for rejecting federal prosecutors’ request to turn over Pleau so he could be tried in the murder and robbery of David Main, a Lincoln man who was depositing receipts from a gas station that he managed at a Woonsocket bank in September 2010.
It was that request, under a law called the Interstate Agreement on Detainers, (IAD) that turned out to be the fed’s undoing.
If they had instead sought a writ of habeas corpus demanding that Pleau be turned over, Chafee would not have had the right to refuse. But Judge Juan Torruella of the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “once the federal government has put the gears of the IAD into motion, it is bound by the IAD's terms, including its express reservation of a right of refusal to the governor of the sending state.”
Torruella said in his 37-page decision that “it appears that never before has a state governor denied a federal request for custody under the IAD.”
Pleau, who is at the ACI serving 18 years on a parole violation, has offered to plead guilty to state murder and robbery charges in return for a sentence of life without parole. The state attorney general’s office had previously dropped charges against Pleau, agreeing to let him be prosecuted in federal court.
But when federal officials tried to take custody of Pleau, Chafee interceded.
Chafee issued a written statement late Thursday that said, “I am gratified that the 1st Circuit has recognized our state's right to refuse a federal request to transfer a prisoner for the purpose of exposing him to the death penalty - a penalty long rejected by the people of Rhode Island.
“There is no question that Jason Wayne Pleau is a career criminal who deserves to be punished for his crimes,” the governor said. “But as I have previously stated, my involvement in this case is not about Mr. Pleau as an individual, nor is it about the terrible ordeal of the Main family. And it is not about my personal feelings or opinions. It is about maintaining and protecting the sovereignty and laws of the state I was elected to govern, and I am encouraged that the 1st Circuit has recognized that important role.
Chafee acknowledged that there are likely to be further appeals in this case. “While I am grateful for the 1st Circuit's decision,” he said, “I know that this may not be the last step.
“Each time this case appears in the news it causes further pain for the Main family, which I regret, Chafee said. “I extend once again my most sincere condolences to them for their unthinkable loss.”