Rhode Island must turn over suspect in death-penalty spat

Reuters News
Posted: May 07, 2012 8:13 PM
Rhode Island must turn over suspect in death-penalty spat

By Terry Baynes

(Reuters) - Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee must surrender a state prisoner to federal authorities to potentially face the death penalty on charges of killing of a gas station manager, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday.

The Boston-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled in a 3-2 decision that Chafee could not keep shooting suspect Jason Pleau in state custody to shield him from capital punishment. Ruling otherwise would undermine the federal government's ability to prosecute federal crimes, the court ruled.

"Instead of a place of confinement, the state prison would become a refuge against federal charges," Judge Michael Boudin wrote for the majority.

Pleau was serving an 18-year sentence in state prison for parole violations when he was indicted on federal charges for the 2010 murder and robbery of David Main outside a bank. The federal government asked for custody of Pleau under a federal law that governs the transfer of prisoners between states and the U.S. government. But Chafee refused, asserting Rhode Island's policy of opposing the death penalty.

In 2011, a three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit had upheld Pleau and Chafee's right to resist the federal request. But a majority of the full 1st Circuit reached the opposite conclusion on Monday, finding the federal government's right to prosecute federal crimes trumped the state's interest in opposing capital punishment.

"State interposition to defeat federal authority vanished with the Civil War," Boudin wrote.

Two judges dissented, defending the governor's right to refuse the request.

Robert Mann, a lawyer for Pleau, was not immediately available for comment.

U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha said in a statement his office was prepared to move forward with the prosecution, which could carry the death penalty.

(Reporting by Terry Baynes; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Lisa Shumaker)