A federal appeals court refused on Monday to delay a federal murder case against a Rhode Island man at the center of a tug-of-war between Gov. Lincoln Chafee and federal prosecutors.
The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said in a 3-2 decision that an arraignment and initial hearings for Jason Pleau, who may face the death penalty if convicted, “should move forward immediately.” Rhode Island does not have capital punishment.
The court said that as time passes, witnesses and other evidence may be lost, and it noted that the federal government has emphasized the public interest in getting criminal trials under way quickly.
Pleau, 34, is accused of fatally shooting 49-year-old gas station manager David Main outside a Woonsocket bank in 2010. He currently is serving an 18-year sentence in state prison for violating his probation in another case.
Chafee has refused to surrender Pleau to federal authorities, saying the federal government wants to try him to make the death penalty a possible punishment for him. Chafee, an independent, is believed to be the first governor to refuse to surrender an inmate under the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act.
Federal prosecutors have not said whether they will pursue a death penalty if Pleau is convicted.
In a 3-2 decision earlier this month, the appeals panel ruled Pleau may stand trial in federal court. Chafee later announced that he’ll ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. Lawyers for Pleau and Chafee then asked the appeals court to delay its written order, pending a Supreme Court decision on a review. The appeals court refused Monday, and said its written order will be filed May 29.
A Chafee spokeswoman had no immediate comment. Pleau’s attorney, Robert B. Mann, said the defense is studying the decision. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth P. Madden in Rhode Island said an arraignment date in U.S. District Court in Providence can be scheduled but any subsequent court proceedings will have to wait for the written appeals court order.
The appeals court said if the Supreme Court decides to hear Pleau’s case, the court could temporarily halt the criminal proceedings.
Chafee has argued that the provision allowing governors to refuse to surrender inmates applies when federal authorities seek to take state prisoners into custody. Chafee’s interpretation of the law is backed by two appeals court judges who signed onto the dissenting opinion issued earlier this month. The same judges were in favor of granting a delay.
Three people were charged in connection with Main’s death. One has pleaded guilty to robbery and other charges, and is awaiting sentencing in September; the third defendant is awaiting trial.