Governor Chafee's refusal to turn over murder suspect Jason Pleau to federal authorities, fearing they might seek the death penalty, has produced all manner of headlines. And it should: Chafee has taken a principled, if legally shaky, stand meant to honor the traditions of a state that hasn't executed a prisoner in 167 years.
But there is another decision in this case that has been lost in the shuffle: US Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to pursue the death penalty.
The Justice Department need not seek execution. Indeed, Holder has a compelling out: Pleau has agreed to plead guilty to state charges and serve life in prison, with no possibility for parole.
And yet, the federal government is moving forward, putting Rhode Island on course for its first capital-punishment case since the questionable conviction and execution of an Irish immigrant in 1845 ― an execution that led to the abolition of the death penalty in the Ocean State.
Holder may be a big bird in Washington. But here, he's just a turkey.
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