US to seek death penalty for RI man in legal fight

June 18, 2012 - 5:05 PM

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Federal authorities said Monday that they plan to seek the death penalty in the case of an inmate at the center of a legal tug-of-war between Rhode Island's governor and federal prosecutors.

In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in Providence, federal prosecutors outlined their case for seeking the death penalty against 34-year-old Jason W. Pleau if he is convicted in the shooting death of gas station manager David Main.

Pleau is accused of fatally shooting the 49-year-old Main as he approached a Woonsocket bank on Sept. 20, 2010, to deposit receipts from a nearby Shell station where he worked. Prosecutors say a masked Pleau chased and shot Main multiple times, then made off with a bank deposit bag containing more than $12,000.

Federal prosecutors disclosed their intention to seek the death penalty in response to a ruling from a U.S. District Court judge, who ordered the Justice Department this month to say where it stood on the issue.

Pleau was indicted on federal charges in December 2010, but his prosecution has been delayed by a legal battle between Gov. Lincoln Chafee and prosecutors over where he would stand trial. He is serving an 18-year sentence in state prison for violating his probation in another case.

Chafee, an independent, has been fighting since June 2011 to prevent Pleau from being tried in federal court where a death penalty prosecution could be pursued. Rhode Island doesn't have capital punishment.

He said Monday that he plans to push forward with his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Today's decision does not alter the state's position and we will continue to vindicate Rhode Island's rights under federal law," Chafee said in a statement.

Prosecutors say Pleau has a long history of violence and is likely to resort to violence again. They also say he has failed to rehabilitate himself despite spending more than 12 years in prison before Main was killed. Further, they say, Pleau has shown no remorse for Main's death.

"Defendant is likely to commit criminal acts of violence in the future that would constitute a continuing and serious threat to the lives and safety of others," prosecutors wrote.

They cited Pleau's criminal history dating back 16 years, including two robberies, a burglary, felony assault and attempted robbery that took place over 17 days in October 1996.

Prosecutors also say Pleau assaulted a corrections officer while he was in prison in 2000 and participated in an armed robbery at a Woonsocket restaurant 12 days before Main was killed.

"Defendant has engaged in a continuing pattern of violence, attempted violence and threatened violence," prosecutors wrote.

Pleau faces three charges, including discharging a firearm during a crime of violence that resulted in Main's death. That count carries the death penalty. Not guilty pleas have been entered on his behalf.

Defense attorney David P. Hoose said he was "disappointed but not terribly surprised with the decision." He declined to comment further.

Chafee is believed to be the first governor to refuse to surrender an inmate under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act.

Under that act, he said in Monday's statement, "states 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."

The defense has said Pleau is willing to plead guilty to state charges and serve a life sentence.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled last month that Pleau may stand trial in federal court. Chafee and Pleau petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to delay the proceedings but were turned down. Chafee and lawyers for Pleau have said they plan to ask the Supreme Court to review the case.

Federal prosecutors say Pleau — along with his co-defendants Jose A. Santiago and Kelley M. Lajoie — hatched a plot at least two days before the killing to rob Main. They say Santiago drove the getaway car and Lajoie acted as a lookout, providing information on Main's movements by cellphone.

After the robbery, prosecutors say the three met and divided the proceeds.

Lajoie pleaded guilty to robbery and other charges last year and is awaiting sentencing. Not guilty pleas have been entered for Santiago, who is awaiting trial.