PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Alleged gang member Joel Francisco pleaded not guilty to a Federal Hill murder on Monday, in his first court appearance in the case after being captured in Texas and returned to Rhode Island.
Francisco was indicted by a statewide grand jury, accused of stabbing Troy Pine to death at the Nara Hookah Lounge in October.
At the arraignment in Superior Court Monday morning, Francisco was ordered to be held without bail pending a hearing on Dec. 23. The Attorney General’s office plans to prosecute him as a “habitual offender,” which would increase his sentence if convicted.
Multiple members of Pine’s family attended the arraignment. Pine’s nephew, Jay Chattelle, said his “whole body was shaking” after seeing his uncle’s alleged killer in the courtroom.
Francisco’s murder case is running parallel to multiple other criminal cases, including an alleged domestic breaking and entering case out of Providence in July and a new federal drug indictment handed down last week.
The new case, part of a sweeping federal operation targeting the Latin Kings gang by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston, revealed that Francisco was allegedly helped by the Kings to flea towards Mexico after Pine’s murder. (Another accused gang member, Michael Cecchetelli, is charged with accessory to murder for allegedly helping Francisco escape.)
Francisco was ultimately taken into custody by U.S. Marshals in a motel in Texas. He was returned to Rhode Island where he was first brought before a federal judge in November on allegations he violated his probation in a previous drug case. Prosecutors have since withdrawn their violation petition in order to allow the state murder case to proceed first, but can file it again in the future.
Francisco had been released from a life sentence in prison this past February, thanks to the federal First Step Act that passed in 2018.
Four months later, Providence Police arrested him for allegedly attempting to break into an ex-girlfriend’s home. Francisco is being held on $25,000 surety bail in that ongoing case.
Francisco was not held as a federal violator on that arrest though, and remained free until police said he killed Pine in October.
The 41-year-old has several prior convictions, some of which are being used to prosecute him as habitual offender, according to court documents. Prosecutors cite a 1997 racketeering and attempted murder case and three separate felony drug cases in their filing giving notice of the habitual offender status.