BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) – Federal prosecutors will wait to decide whether to pursue the death penalty against a Providence man who is accused of killing a woman he picked up outside a Boston nightclub until they know more about the approach of the incoming U.S. Attorney General.
Massachusetts Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Richardson said government prosecutors have not yet decided whether they will seek the death penalty against the man, Louis Coleman. The decision will have an enormous impact on how the trial is handled.
“Given on where we are in terms of a new administration, it’s not something that is going to happen imminently,” Richardson said during a pretrial hearing on Thursday.
Coleman, 32, is charged with “kidnapping resulting in death” – which carries a potential death sentence – in the 2019 slaying of Jassy Correia.
Correia was celebrating her 23rd birthday at a Boston nightclub when prosecutors say Coleman abducted her outside the club and brought her to his Providence apartment.
Surveillance video showed Coleman carrying “a body with long hair and orange pants” that was “naked from the waist up” into his apartment building at 95 Chestnut St., according to a federal complaint.
Coleman was later seen leaving the building with a suitcase and was eventually captured in Delaware with Correia’s body in the trunk of his car.
On Thursday, Coleman appeared before U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor remotely from the Plymouth County House of Corrections, where he is awaiting trial. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit with his hair grown out, Coleman said nothing during the proceedings.
Saylor urged prosecutors to come to a decision on the death penalty soon.
“I think that decision needs to be a priority,” Saylor said. “It’s hard to plan for a trial without knowing precisely what it will look like.”
“It will involve a gigantic waste of time depending on what path we go,” he added.
Death penalty cases are far more complicated and time consuming than traditional criminal trials. They essentially involve two different trials, where a jury must first consider whether a defendant is guilty of the crime itself, then separately determine if the government has proved the aggravating circumstances that would support the punishment of death.
Jane Peachy, one of Coleman’s attorneys, told the judge the path prosecutors take in this case will have a profound impact on how his defense team will prepare and what evidence they will fight against being admitted.
“The government’s decision on how to proceed will determine the scope on what is admissible,” Peachy said.
President Biden has picked Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. and a former high-ranking Justice Department official, to be his attorney general.
Garland still has to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, where he will likely be questioned about his position on the death penalty. Garland was one of the federal prosecutors who oversaw the death penalty case of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Biden has said he would support legislation that would eliminate the death penalty at the federal level.
Saylor said because of the pandemic and the backlog of cases at federal court, the earliest the Coleman case could head to trial is likely in the fall.
Another pretrial hearing was set for next month.