Let’s face facts: The fight between Gov. Lincoln Chafee and U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha is about where Jason Pleau is going to spend the rest of his life — in a federal prison or at the ACI. It is not — I repeat not — about Pleau getting the death penalty. That’s because it is extremely unlikely that Pleau is going to be executed, no matter how the current legal wrangling plays out.
The family of David Main, the Lincoln man gunned down by Pleau as he was making a deposit at a Woonsocket bank, would be spared a lot of anguish if someone would tell them that.
Quite understandably, Main’s family wants to see Pleau die on a gurney with a needle in his arm. No one wants to quarrel with them about that; if he killed a member of my family, I would want to see him die a more hideous death, one that I could deal out to him personally.
When Main’s sister, Deborah Smith wrote to Chafee and said, “Our family is hoping for justice for David,” she means she wants him turned over to the feds so he can be executed after a trial.
It would be a kindness to tell the family now that it probably isn’t going to happen.
The federal death penalty, after being struck down by the Supreme Court in 1972, was reinstated in 1988, nearly a quarter century ago. But it has been used very rarely. It has been imposed only three times since then and one of those times was for Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City terrorist bomber.
The last federal execution was in 1993. The death penalty has never been carried out during the Obama administration. The U.S. Attorney General’s office has to sign off before federal prosecutors can seek capital
punishment in a case, and so far Eric Holder has not done so in this instance. He has approved it in only 6 out of 71 cases since he took office (not counting the policy change to prosecute terrorists at Guantanamo in federal court, possibly as death cases.)
According to a 2011 memorandum from Holder to U.S. Attorneys on the “death penalty protocol,” one of the things that must be taken into consideration is “the defendant's willingness to plead guilty to a life or near-life term of imprisonment.” Through his lawyers, Pleau has said he would do just that — accept life in prison in exchange for a guilty plea in a Rhode Island court.
Obviously, Neronha wants to keep the possibility of the death penalty in his back pocket because he expects to win the legal tug-of-war with the governor, and he wants leverage to get a guilty plea in federal court if he does. Chafee indicated early on that he would turn Pleau over if Neronha would rule out seeking the death penalty, but that didn’t happen.
Someone should pass a quiet word to the Main family to not get their hopes up that Pleau will be put to death, but assure them that he is going to spend the rest of his life behind bars somewhere, no matter what else happens.
So last week, West Warwick was added to the list of Rhode Island municipalities teetering on the cliff of the financial abyss that are ripe for state intervention.
Of course the first thing to be tossed into the pit will be the right of that town’s citizens to elect its own leaders, the current town officials will lose their power, first to a budget commission then, if that doesn’t work out, to a receiver.
This isn’t the first time for West Warwick. Back in the 1990s, there was a budget commission calling the shots there.
You know, it’s too bad that, back then, West Warwick didn’t accept the current-day conventional wisdom that cities and towns should do away with their elected mayor and get a “professional” town manager.
Rather than stubbornly stick to sloppy, unprofessional democracy, where the townspeople can choose their chief executive at the ballot box, wouldn’t West Warwick be in much better shape today if it adopted the clean, “professional” method of having the Town Council hire a manager to run things?
But, wait a minute! West Warwick DID go the route of displacing then-Mayor Kathryn O’Hare and changing their Town Charter back in the ’90s to implement the town manager form of government. They have been operating
under a “professional” town manager for years now. Yet here they are today, right back in the dumper with places like Central Falls, Woonsocket, Pawtucket and Providence that elect their mayors.
So I guess all that stuff about a “professional” town manager being preferable to the citizens electing their own mayor is a lot of hooey.
After years of keeping his own counsel on the issue of same-sex marriage, and being harangued by the gay community and other liberals and Democrats the whole time, Sen. Jack Reed last week announced, like President Obama a few hours before him, that he supports the right of homosexuals to marry. You have to acknowledge, that was quite an announcement, especially after all this time, on an important topic of topical moment. So how did the
senator break this news? Did he call a news conference, declaring his stand to reporters and making clear how he came about making this decision, and explaining why it took so long? No, he didn’t.
O.K. then, did he organize a conference call, staying on the line to answer every question about the nuances of his change in position, to make sure his decision-making process was clear to voters? Nope.
At the very least, he must have issued a detailed press release, making sure everyone knew the background of his original reluctance and his reasons for making the announcement when he did, other than to me-too the president (who, it is now revealed, was pressured into me-tooing Vice President Joe Biden). Not that either.
Here is Sen. Jack Reed’s full announcement on his gay marriage stand and the detailed explanation for his decision: “I support same sex marriage and will cosponsor the Respect for Marriage Act. #MarriageEquality #LGBT”
That’s it, in its entirety. It’s apparently all he had to say on the matter. I don’t want to focus too intently on Senator Reed here, he is a symptom; he is not the problem.
But if this is how our elected officials, the people who are in charge of running our government, are going to communicate with their constituents from now on, it is a big, big problem.
What is an even bigger problem is if journalists start accepting such 140-character max nonsense as actual news and are satisfied with that as a valid response by newsmakers to important issues.
Thomas Jefferson never would have taken that. It was he who said, “Ignorance and sound self-government could not exist together: the one destroyed the other. A despotic government could restrain its citizens and deprive the people of their liberties only while they were ignorant.” He also said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and all that other social media garbage is fine for frivolity, but when we let it be confused for news, and when we confuse browsing those sites for info-tidbits as serious journalism, we start sliding down a slippery slope that leads to Jefferson’s notion of despotism.
This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a Tweet.