U.S. prosecutors to seek death penalty in Rhode Island shooting
(Reuters) - The U.S. federal government will seek the death penalty against a man accused of robbing and killing a gas station manager in Rhode Island if the suspect is convicted of murder at trial, federal prosecutors said on Monday.
The move follows a rare face-off between the state and federal authorities over capital punishment, which was ended in Rhode Island in 1984. The state's governor has resisted handing the suspect, Jason Pleau, over to federal custody.
Pleau, 34, is accused in the 2010 shooting death of David Main in the small city of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, according to the FBI, as Main attempted to make a bank deposit from the gas station he managed.
Pleau was indicted that same year by a federal grand jury for murder, while he was already serving an 18-year sentence in state prison for parole violations. 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.
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, a political independent, initially resisted, asserting the state's policy of opposing the death penalty. But a federal appeals court in Boston last month ordered him to hand Pleau over to federal authorities.
Prosecutors filed Monday's notice of intent to seek the death sentence at U.S. District Court in Providence, specifically on a count charging Pleau with possessing, carrying and discharging a firearm during a crime that caused Main's death.
Responding to the decision to seek the death penalty, Robert Mann, an attorney for Pleau, told Reuters: "Obviously, we are very disappointed."
Prosecutors, in the filing, said Pleau had a history of other acts of serious violence, had demonstrated a low rehabilitative potential, and displayed a lack of remorse.
Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, said it was "unusual" for the federal government to pursue a death penalty case in a state opposed to it, especially since the crime does not involve terrorism or another matter of national concern.
"It's surprising as the state has said it could handle the case and the defendant said he'd plead guilty and get life without parole - it could have been done differently," said Dieter.
The Boston-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled in May that keeping Pleau in state custody shielded him from capital punishment, and would undermine the federal government's ability to prosecute federal crimes.
A conference on the case's status was scheduled for Friday at U.S. District Court.
(Additional reporting by Joseph O'Leary; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Cynthia Johnston; Desking by G Crosse, Andrew Hay)
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