Criminal Justice

Appeals Court Blocks Surrender of RI Defendant to Federal Authorities

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A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Rhode Island officials don’t have to surrender custody of an accused murderer to federal authorities in a dispute over the death penalty.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston held (PDF) that the federal government is bound by the terms of a law governing the transfer of inmates between states, including a provision saying that a governor has the authority to deny a request for custody, the Providence Journal reports.

Federal prosecutors had asked Rhode Island officials to transfer custody of accused murderer Jason Wayne Pleau to them so he can be tried in federal court, where he could, if convicted, face the death penalty.

But Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee refused on the grounds that Rhode Island does not have a death penalty.

Pleau is accused of plotting with a Massachusetts couple to rob a man as he tried to make a bank deposit. He is also charged with the killing of a gas station manager outside of a bank in Woonsocket.

A federal court judge in Providence, R.I., held last June that Rhode Island officials must surrender Pleau to federal authorities.

Chafee said in a statement he was gratified by the ruling. “There is no question that Jason Wayne Pleau is a career criminal who deserves to be punished for his crimes,” he said. But the issue isn’t about Pleau or his own feelings and opinions, the governor said. “It is about maintaining and protecting the sovereignty and laws of the state I was elected to govern.”

The U.S. Attorney’s office said it is reviewing the ruling.

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