R.I. murder suspect to be tried in federal court

An appeals court ruled Monday that a man being held in Rhode Island on a murder charge is to face federal charges, and a possible death sentence, despite efforts by Rhode Island’s governor to keep the case under state jurisdiction, according to court documents.

Jason W. Pleau, who allegedly robbed and fatally shot a gas station clerk in Woonsocket in September 2010, had been stuck between Governor Lincoln Chafee’s refusal to release him and federal authorities’ effort to charge him. Chafee was seeking to avoid the possibility of the death penalty for Pleau. Capital punishment is a federal option but is not permitted under state law.

Pleau was already in state custody on parole violations when he was federally indicted, said court documents.


“Were Pleau and Governor Chafee to prevail, Pleau could be permanently immune from federal prosecution,’’ the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

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“He is currently serving an 18-year term in Rhode Island prison and, if the writ were denied, might agree to a state sentence of life in Rhode Island for the robbery and murder.

“Even if Pleau served only his current 18-year term, needed witnesses for federal prosecution could be unavailable two decades from now. Instead of a place of confinement, the state prison would become refuge against federal charges,’’ the appeals court ruled.

After the court’s rejection of Rhode Island’s move to keep Pleau in state custody, US Attorney Peter F. Neronha released a statement:

“Today’s ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirms our position from the outset, that is, that the governor does not have the right to prevent a defendant properly charged by a federal grand jury from appearing in federal court to face federal charges,’’ said Neronha.


“We are prepared, as we have been since December of 2010 when the federal grand jury returned its indictment of Mr. Pleau, to move forward with this case.’’

Milton J. Valencia of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Derek J. Anderson can be reached at