WOONSOCKET — Federal prosecutors are asking an appeals court for extra time to seek a full court review of a decision allowing Jason Pleau to remain in state custody to avoid a possible death penalty in connection with the robbery and murder of a gas station manager from Lincoln.
U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha wants the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston to give prosecutors until Nov. 23, about two weeks longer than normal, to appeal the ruling.
Siding with Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a three-member panel of the circuit court ruled Thursday, on a 2-1 vote, that Pleau may remain in state custody, despite the U.S. attorney’s request that the state relinquish custody of him to federal authorities.
Pleau is accused of shooting to death the 49-year-old manager of the East Woonsocket Shell station during the course of a robbery outside Citizens Bank on Diamond Hill Road on Sept. 20, 2010. Pleau and two accomplices allegedly made off with some $12,500 in gas station receipts.
In June, federal prosecutors initially asked the state to turn Pleau over to their custody under a law known as the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act, which Chafee contends gives him the discretion to refuse the request.
In what is believed to have been a first for any governor, Chafee exercised his powers under the IAD to reject the government’s request, saying it was the morally responsible position to take in a state that abolished the death penalty generations ago.
Federal prosecutors later renewed the request under a traditional writ of habeus corpus, which would have allowed Chafee far less authority to intercede on Pleau’s behalf. But in its decision last week, the appeals court panel said it was too late – after invoking the IAD to make the transfer, federal prosecutors were now bound by its strictures and must honor Chafee’s decision.
Jim Martin, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha, stopped short of saying an appeal to the full court — or any court — is a foregone conclusion. But he said prosecutors need more time to confer with the office of U.S. Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. in Washington, D.C., before deciding whether to take the next step. Verrilli’s office has veto power over all federal litigation at the appellate level.
“Additional time is needed for this decision to be made and for the government to prepare any petition,” the papers requesting the deadline extension say.
Legal experts say an appeal to the full court is a rare but allowable course of action to contest a split decision from a sub-panel of the entire membership of the seven-judge court. Federal prosecutors could have also appealed directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it’s an option that remains open should the full circuit court reject their position.
Pleau, 34, is currently serving 18 years at the Adult Correctional Institutions on probation and parole violations resulting from Main’s killing. Though he was indicted in December 2010 on federal charges of conspiracy, armed robbery and murder, he is not currently under any criminal indictment at the state level.
His defense lawyers, Robert Mann of Providence and David Hoose of Northhampton, Mass., say that if Pleau is allowed to remain in state custody he will plead guilty to the murder in return for a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, the harshest penalty on the books from crimes prosecuted under state jurisdiction.
Pleau is one of three people under federal indictment in connection with Main’s killing. Prosecutors said Jose Santiago drove a getaway truck, and his girlfriend, Kelly Lajoie, acted as a lookout, using a cell phone to alert her alleged conspirators as Main was taking the deposits from the Shell station where he worked to the bank, less than a mile away.
Despite all the preliminary maneuvering around the Pleau case, federal prosecutors still refuse to say for certain whether it is their intention to seek the death penalty against him. On the other hand, they’ve already informed lawyers for Santiago and Lajoie that they will not seek the death penalty in those cases.