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R.I. governor, feds fight over who gets custody of robbery suspect

May 30, 2012|By Tina Susman

A man charged with killing a gas station manager during a robbery outside a bank is caught in the middle of an unusual custody battle between federal prosecutors and Rhode Island's governor. The latter is trying to block the accused's prosecution in federal court, citing his state's opposition to the death penalty as a reason.

Jason W. Pleau, 34, was indicted on federal charges in December 2010 in connection with the death earlier that year of David Main outside a bank in Woonsocket, R.I. Main was attacked as he was preparing to deposit a bag containing $12,542 in cash.

In December, Kelly Lajoie -- also charged in the case -- pleaded guilty in federal court in Providence to conspiracy and other charges. Lajoie said she acted as a lookout and alerted Pleau when Main left the gas station with the bag of money to take to the bank. A third co-defendant, Jose Santiago, is accused of driving the getaway car.

But Pleau is charged with firing the fatal shot at Main and faces the harshest sentence if he were to be convicted in federal court, where bank robbery charges normally are heard.

A federal appeals court in Boston ruled 3-2 earlier this month that Pleau could be tried in federal court, and he was due to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon in Providence, R.I. The ruling overturned one last year that said federal authorities did not have the right to take custody of Pleau. Gov. Lincoln Chafee said he would appeal the latest court decision.

"The state of Rhode Island must seek to protect both the strong states' rights issues at stake and the legitimacy of its long-standing public policy against the death penalty," Chafee said last week in announcing his decision to appeal the case, leaving Pleau's fate in limbo.

Chafee, who became the state's first Independent governor when he was elected in November 2010, has been fighting more than a year to prevent the transfer of Pleau from state to federal custody.

"There is no question that Jason Wayne Pleau is a career criminal who deserves to be punished for his crimes," Chafee said last year. "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. It is about maintaining and protecting the sovereignty and laws of the state I was elected to govern."

The family of Main, who had a wife and son, has called Chafee's actions "a miscarriage of justice." "The family feels deeply betrayed," it said in a statement released after Chafee announced his intention to appeal the latest court decision.

Rhode Island abolished the death penalty in 1984. It is one of 17 states that do not carry out executions; Connecticut became the latest in April after lawmakers passed legislation ending capital punishment.

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tina.susman@latimes.com

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