PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island man at the center of a capital punishment battle between the state and federal governments on Wednesday changed his plea to guilty to avoid the death penalty.
Jason Pleau pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Providence to robbery, conspiracy and using a firearm in a crime of violence in the September 2010 killing of David Main, a Woonsocket gas station manager shot to death as he was walking into a bank to deposit the station’s weekend receipts.
Members of Main’s family, including his school-aged son, mother and sisters, listened quietly and cried as prosecutor Adi Goldstein recounted to the court how Pleau conspired with two others to rob Main, waited for him outside the bank with a .38-caliber revolver, told Main to “give me the dough,” and then shot him as he ran for the door.
Main, 49, died of a gunshot wound to the head.
The judge agreed to sentence Pleau to life in prison without parole, and scheduled his formal sentencing for Oct. 25.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee fought unsuccessfully to keep Pleau out of federal custody because of the threat of capital punishment. Chafee said the state had rejected the use of the death penalty and that it was an issue of state’s rights. But an appeals court ruled last year the state must surrender Pleau to federal officials, and the U.S. Supreme Court in January declined to take up Chafee’s appeal of that ruling.
Pleau’s lawyer, Bob Mann, said outside court on Wednesday that they were grateful Pleau would no longer face the death penalty.
Jose Santiago and Kelley Lajoie, both of Massachusetts, were also charged in the case. Lajoie has pleaded guilty, while Santiago pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial next month.
Authorities have said the three split around $12,000 they got from the robbery and killing and used it to go shopping.
Main’s family appeared grief-stricken on Wednesday. Inside the courtroom, as Pleau was led away in shackles and handcuffs, Main’s mother said, “This is an evil person.”
Outside the courthouse, Main’s sisters said they missed their brother and that their mother misses her son. They said it was too painful to discuss watching Pleau in court, but were relieved they were moving forward.
“He’s going away for life and he’ll be in there forever. So that’s it. He won’t harm anybody else,” said Heather Hitchen, Main’s sister. “We can try to find some closure.”