U.S. District Court judges agreed that Gov. Lincoln Chafee has the right to refuse the transfer of murder suspect Jason Pleau to the federal government in a case labeled "unprecedented" in today's decision.
Pleau, 33, was one of three suspects y of David Main, a Lincoln man and employee of Shell gas station, who was shot to death while attempting to make a deposit at Citizens Bank on Diamond Hill Road in Sept. of 2010.
In a case that state versus federal jurisdiction, Chafee of the prisoner in June, arguing that it would expose Pleau to the capital punishment, which is not allowed under Rhode Island state law.
"A transfer of Mr. Pleau to temporary federal custody would potentially expose him to the death penalty, a penalty consciously rejected by the State of Rhode Island, even for those guilty of the most heinous crimes," the governor explained.
The decision was based in part on the terms of the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD,) through which the federal government requested the transfer. According to the ruling, states are allowed to refuse the transfer of prisoners to the federal government under IAD terms, but no state has ever done so.
Claire Richards, chief legal officer for the governor, explained: "The agreement treats the federal government as yet another state and clearly states that the governor has the right to say no, but they didn't like that."
"He was already going to plead guilty to life in prison without parole," Richards added, "so presumably the only reason to move him was the death penalty."
Judges in the 1st Circuit, a federal court trumped only by the U.S. Supreme Court, agreed.
"Pleau had, at this point, already indicated his agreement to plead guilty to the state charges and accept a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Therefore, the only additional punishment that a federal conviction might bring would appear to be authorization to kill Pleau. The present case thus presents a stark conflict between federal and state policy prerogatives on a matter of literally life-and-death significance," the decision states.
In a statement released tonight on the matter, Chafee emphasized his sympathy for the victim's family, but reiterated the fact that Rhode Island has long rejected capital punishment.
"There is no question that Jason Wayne Pleau is a career criminal who deserves to be punished for his crimes. 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," Chafee said. "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."
The federal government could request a petition for rehearing or elect to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Cases involving capital punishment are inevitably long, drawn-out processes with many rulings and many appeals," Chafee said. "While I am grateful for the 1st Circuit’s decision, I know that this may not be the last step."