Woonsocket to be Focal Point in Looming Death Penalty Debate

A state Senator has filed a bill to allow executions for first-degree murder

More than 160 years have passed since Rhode Island last executed a criminal, but a 2010 murder on the streets of Woonsocket now has some pushing to bring back the death penalty.

State Sen. John Tassoni has filed a bill to reinstate the death penalty for first degree murder, a move he says will discourage violent crime and deliver justice to victims' families. He also has plans to file a bill that would put the death penalty question on the ballot.

"What we have now isn't working," said Tassoni, a Democrat who represents Smithfield and North Smithfield. "Right now this country is upside down. There are too many people with no morals, no respect. Will the governor sign it? No, I don't think so. Do we have the two-thirds to override that? That remains to be seen."

Interviews with Woonsocket residents show his effort could gain strong support in northern Rhode Island. "An eye for an eye," said city resident Dan Trower, while drinking coffee at . "If you take a life, you should pay with your own."

Tassoni said he filed his bill partly in response to public outrage over the death of Lincoln resident David D. Main. Main was shot and killed on Sept. 20, 2010, while bringing cash from the gas station where he worked as manager to a branch on Woonsocket's Diamond Hill Road.  The alleged killer, Jason W. Pleau, 34, of Providence was arrested a short time later. Jose A. Santiago, 34, and Kelley M. Lajoie, 33, both of Chicopee, MA, were charged with assisting Pleau in the botched robbery.

Because the killing occurred in the bank parking lot, and bank robbery is considered a federal crime, US Attorney Peter Neronha is in federal court, where the possible sentences for first degree murder include death. For the past eight months, however, Gov. Lincoln Chafee has the defendant to federal authorities. He wants Pleau tried in state court, where the maximum sentence would be life imprisonment.

In a written statement after an October hearing, the governor described the death penalty as "long rejected by the people of Rhode Island" and said he was seeking to protect "the sovereignty and laws of the state I was elected to govern."

The legal tug-of-war between the state and federal government will resume again in April, when the U.S First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston is scheduled to hear the case.

Tassoni said he filed his bill after watching Chafee's efforts. "If I had the chance to talk this over with the governor," he said, "I would ask him, if your son or daughter were murdered this way, what would you do? Would you still say no to giving up this guy? If you did a poll, I think you'd find 80 percent of the people in this state would say yes to giving him up." 

But Chafee's stand has been applauded by the number of Rhode Island civil rights groups, the ACLU, and in the editorial pages of the New York Times. And Roman Catholic leaders are already speaking out against Tassoni's proposal.

"Our modern society can now protect itself from violent killers by the sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole," reads a recent editorial in The Rhode Island Catholic, a publication of the Diocese of Providence. "Therefore state sanctioned killing by execution can no longer be morally justifiable defense to murder. Further, the fundamental Catholic teaching that all human life deserves dignity and respect includes even the lives of violent killers."

With 63 percent of Rhode Islanders identifying themselves as Roman Catholic, that would seem a strong obstacle to the measure. But ask around in Woonsocket - where church steeples dominate the landscape - and you'll find many favor executions.

"It will make a criminal think twice about robbing someone with a gun," said Wayne Rufo, while waiting at a Main Street bus station. "He'll know that if it goes off, he could die, too."

"I have mixed feelings, because an innocent person could be executed by mistake," added his friend Kim Nevins. "But sometimes it seems like it's the only way to prevent some guys from killing."

There were harsh words for the governor from some dining at Paul's Family restaurant. "Chafee is wrong," said customer Larry Shulkin. "He should let the government have the expense of the prosecution and imprisonment."

"When they kill, they should go out," added Dave O'Neill, a retiree. "Then others would learn."

Carol Kane, cook, waitress, and manager, was divided on the issue. "I recently saw a news show about three innocent guys who were locked up for 20 years in Tennessee, and then the court said they were innocent," she said. "That makes you think twice. But I think Chafee should have left it alone - it brought up too many painful feelings for the victim's family."

The last execution in Rhode Island took place in 1845, and was met with a loud public outcry. Many people believed the condemned man, John Gordon, was innocent, and that Yankee jurors were influenced by anti-Irish and anti-immigrant prejudice. The state abolished the death penalty in 1954, brought it back two decades later, and abolished it again in 1984.

Steve February 03, 2012 at 12:34 AM
Finally, a story in the Patch we can sink our teeth into! Man, I was going to sleep over the last week or so. I think it's about time we reconsider the death penality in RI, especially in light of the Pleau case! Although you know ole' Linc will do everything in his power to repeal the bill. Somehow, he likes these kind of guys.......RI should follow Connecticutt's lead and sentence these scumbags to DEATH!
JOSEPH CROCE February 03, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Novan for Life February 03, 2012 at 01:36 AM
i don't agree keep it the way it is we don't need the death penalty,there's no point of having it
Steve February 03, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Ok Robert, so we the tax payers have to support this slime Pleau until the day he dies (probably about 70 years) a natural death because we don't have the death penalty? Are you kidding me? Again, we are at different sides on this issue, but sometimes I think your just tweaking me here due to the fact that it took you all of 1 hour to make a the response...... That's ok, I like other opinions no matter how lame they may be!
Sean Integlia February 03, 2012 at 10:54 AM
There have been studies that show that having a death penalty has no deterrent effect on murder rates.
EssaySea February 03, 2012 at 03:36 PM
It's also not cheap. As with everything else, there manages to be debate on both sides, but there's plenty of evidence that execution is actually more expensive than stiff prison terms. The death penalty has been debunked as a legitimate punishment for quite some time now. It pretty much only satisfies a need for revenge. How you feel about revenge usually determines where you come down on capital punishment
Erin B. February 03, 2012 at 04:01 PM
• The California death penalty system costs taxpayers $114 million per year beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life. Taxpayers have paid more than $250 million for each of the state’s executions. (L.A. Times, March 6, 2005) • In Kansas, the costs of capital cases are 70% more expensive than comparable non-capital cases, including the costs of incarceration. (Kansas Performance Audit Report, December 2003). • In Maryland, an average death penalty case resulting in a death sentence costs approximately $3 million. The eventual costs to Maryland taxpayers for cases pursued 1978-1999 will be $186 million. Five executions have resulted. (Urban Institute 2008). • The most comprehensive study in the country found that the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million per execution over the costs of sentencing murderers to life imprisonment. The majority of those costs occur at the trial level. (Duke University, May 1993). • Enforcing the death penalty costs Florida $51 million a year above what it would cost to punish all first-degree murderers with life in prison without parole. Based on the 44 executions Florida had carried out since 1976, that amounts to a cost of $24 million for each execution. (Palm Beach Post, January 4, 2000). • In Texas, a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years. (Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1992).
Erin B. February 03, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Those facts and figures, along with other useful death penalty information can be found here: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf Also, The overwhelming majority of criminologists agree that the death penalty does NOT act as a deterrent to murder. It's impossible to have hard and fast statistics on that of course but it's most commonly believed by the experts that the death penalty would not help. It's not at all fair in my mind, especially given the opportunities that many convicts are given in prisons these days, but the finances speak for themselves. The cost of appeals drives up the cost of executions to those insane figures.
EssaySea February 03, 2012 at 05:59 PM
If "opportunities" lead to rehabilitation, then that's okay in my mind. The sooner an inmate is rehabilitated, the sooner they can be released, and the sooner they're off the books (expense wise) and back contributing to society.
Novan for Life February 03, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Thats why im opposed to bringing it back,But steve again runs his mouth and again no one supports his way of thinking
Steve February 03, 2012 at 06:50 PM
As always, there are two sides to every cost of the Death Penality vs. the cost of Life Without Parole debate right? http://www.prodeathpenalty.com/DP.html#D.Cost Also, regarding the sooner rehabilitation, sooner release comment, I'm sure that will sit real well with the Main family. Let's see, maybe if Pleau is a real good boy, he'll be released in 15 years? Yeah right....... And hey Robert, nice hearing from you again.
Steve February 04, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Robert, Sean, Erin, Essay, don't tell me we don't need the death penality.... Michael Woodmansee sentenced to 40 years in prison in 1983 for the killing of 5-year-old Jason Foreman.Woodmansee kept Jason's skull and some other bones on a dresser. They also found a journal, which Woodmansee had warned them about. He claimed it was fiction, but the journal allegedly contained information about the boy's murder.It was never proven in court that Michael Woodmansee cannibalized the body of 5-year-old Jason Foreman in 1975, but the discovery of the boy's bones in a box on top of Woodmansee's dresser led to his conviction for killing the boy. Jason Pleau, 33, convicted of murder in the Sept. 20 for the shooting death of David Main. Enough said! Walter Perry, the man convicted of repeatedly beating and eventually killing 20-month-old Leah Perry of Peace Dale in 1984, will appear before the board. In 1987 he was given a life sentence for the killing of his girlfriend's daughter, whom he admitted to bringing into a dark bedroom and beating on more than one occasion. I could care less if the death penality doesn't deter crime, The acts of the animals and social degenerates speak for themselves!
EssaySea February 04, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Sooooo...revenge, right? Yeah, that's been covered. I guess it's up to the rest of us to decide whether we want to support/finance that need for revenge.
Steve February 04, 2012 at 02:52 AM
You say revenge, I say justice. I guess according to you, it depends on how you look at financing this, as you obviously didn't look at my counterpost on the financing BS that was posted right? You left wingers are unbelievable!
EssaySea February 04, 2012 at 03:04 AM
I saw your counterpoint post, I just have no reason to believe it's more legitimate than the studies showing the opposite to be true. I was perfectly aware of the opposing research prior to you posting it ( I actually mention it). ...and you can call it "justice" if you want to...lots of people do, but be aware that "justice" is a subjective term by definition ("the administering of deserved punishment or reward" - note the word "deserved"...that's an opinion thing). Revenge, however, is clear cut (to exact punishment or expiation for a wrong on behalf of ). So legal killing may or may not be justice, but it's definitely revenge.
EssaySea February 04, 2012 at 03:20 PM
15 years? If you can't rehabilitate someone in 15 years, you either suck at rehabilitating or you've got a mentally ill person in the prison system. (..........or you're just seeking revenge.)
EssaySea February 04, 2012 at 03:29 PM
By the way - why do you assume we're "left wingers"? Because we haven't reached a conclusion based on emotion (anger, revenge), but one based on logic and reason instead? That's just weird for a couple of reasons: 1. Are you "insulting" us by saying we're relying too much on intelligence? 2. What if we're "right wingers"? What are you saying about us then? Reaching logical, emotion free conclusions does not indicate you're "wing"....or at least it shouldn't.
Novan for Life February 04, 2012 at 05:40 PM
we have freedom of choice we don't agree with the death penalty,now more states in this country are getting rid of it because it's to expensive to fianace. Why does it matter if where right wing or Left,you seem to think that because you pay taxes your opinion has to be right well it's not 100% of the time. SO GET OVER YOURSELF STEVE
Jerry February 04, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Absolutely bring on the death penalty only for clear cut murderers. Why should the killer live? Why should we feed him/her? Why should they get to have air conditioning, tv, exercise time and rights? They blew their rights when they committed the crime. What about Pleau who killed the man going into the bank? Why should the victim's family suffer anymore even though it won't bring their father back. I believe in "an eye for an eye". that's what is wrong with society, they get a few years and supposedly rehabilitated...ya, right!! Look at all the rapists and child predators. Some of these judges that allow them to go free should be disbarred.
la_mouffette February 04, 2012 at 07:51 PM
oh, dear... = (
EssaySea February 04, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Sexual obsessions/compulsions are a form of mental illness...in cases of mental illness, I agree rehabilitation is much more difficult. I'm not sure we should go around killing the mentally ill though...not in a civilized society. It's also worth noting that killing a second person doesn't bring back the first and "an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind".
Steve February 04, 2012 at 11:48 PM
Yes, but an eye for an eye doesn't give the opportunity for the killer to kill again once paroled. Hence, a deterent to further killing and crime is acheived by taking another crinimal out of the picture. So much for argument that the Death Penality doesn't deter future murder rates. If you take these animals out of society at the beginning, no further crimes will be committed by these animals in future years. So, the finance argument is debunked (as referenced in an earlier post), and the deterrent argument is debunked, what's left? Hope all you Chafee supporting liberals are enjoying the non-support for the Death Panality in RI.
EssaySea February 05, 2012 at 01:51 AM
@Steve - I like the direction of your last post towards the end....you "backed up" arguments (against expense and against deterrent) as opposed to relying on emotion. The way you use "deterrent" is incorrect though. In legal terms, a deterrent refers to a punishment's ability to deter the rest of society, not the criminal who's being punished at the time. Obviously, being locked in a cage is going to deter a person from doing much of anything; including commit crimes...but does it deter the next person? Your expense argument is also not officially correct either. It's already been established that there are studies corroborating both sides. But I commend the use of a reference at least. You could probably find one for your deterrent argument too. Just google it. I know articles exist out there that claim capital punishment does deter....of course you'll probably find a lot more that state the opposite. Either way, I like the way your approach is headed.
Dudley Sharp February 05, 2012 at 10:00 AM
Of course the death penalty deters. All prospects of a negative outcome deter some. It is a truism. The death penalty, the most severe of criminal sanctions, is the least likely of all criminal sanctions to violate that truism. 1) 28 recent studies finding for deterrence, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation http://www.cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPDeterrence.htm 2) "Deterrence & the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock" http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/02/deterrence-and-the-death-penalty-a-reply-to-radelet-and-lacock.aspx 3) "Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let's be clear" http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2009/03/death-penalty-deterrence-murder-rates.html 4) This is out of date, but corrects a number of the misconceptions about deterrence. "Death Penalty and Deterrence" http://homicidesurvivors.com/2006/03/20/the-death-penalty-as-a-deterrent--confirmed--seven-recent-studies-updated-61204.aspx 5) "The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents" http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/05/the-death-penalty-more-protection-for-innocents.aspx
Dudley Sharp February 05, 2012 at 10:03 AM
Death Penalty: Saving Costs over LWOP? Dudley Sharp, contact info below Can any jurisdiction have a responsible death penalty protocol whereby the costs are similar or less expensive than life without parole cases? Of course. Virginia has executed 75% of those sent to death row in an average of 7.1 years after sentencing, because of strict timelines for thorough appeals, a process validated through both state and federal courts. All jurisdictions could do that and save money over LWOP. It is crucial to check the claims and methodology of the death penalty cost studies. Often they are either very deceptive or inaccurate, just as some studies which compare the costs of the death penalty vs life without parole. Instead of an apples to apples comparison, we often find a kangaroos to apples comparison. 1) "Death Penalty Cost Studies: Saving Costs over LWOP" http://homicidesurvivors.com/2010/03/21/death-penalty-cost-studies-saving-costs-over-lwop.aspx 2) "Duke (North Carolina) Death Penalty Cost Study: Let's be honest" http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2009/06/duke-north-carolina-death-penalty-cost.htm 3) Cost Savings: The Death Penalty http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/05/07/cost-savings-the-death-penalty.aspx contd
Dudley Sharp February 05, 2012 at 10:03 AM
contd 4) See 4th comment down within comments: The California Death Penalty Fraud: Posted by dudleysharp on August 19, 2010 at 4:35 AM | Report this comment Rebuttal to ACLU: and A Rebuttal to "Cut This: The Death Penalty"(1) Death Penalty vs Life Costs in California http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/are-capital-punishments-financial-costs-worth-it/Content?oid=2003765 More cost reviews upon request. What are the costs of not having the death penalty? "The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents" http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/07/05/the-death-penalty-more-protection-for-innocents.aspx
Novan for Life February 09, 2012 at 06:44 PM
whats the difference he serves life or he spends 15 years on death row either way he's still gonna be a burden so no the sate does not need the death penalty
Steve February 09, 2012 at 09:51 PM
Well Robert, let's do some basic math here, 15 years on Death Row at 50 to 75K a year, vs. 45 years on Life Without Parole at 50 to 75K a year. As far as I can tell, that's a difference of 1.5 to 2 MIllion dollars more expensive for the Life Without Parole. Hmmmmmm. What else you got?


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