MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – A New York man suspected of killing an accomplice following a South Burlington drug robbery in 2002 is due to make his first court appearance next month on charges that carry a possible federal death sentence.

Roger Aletras, 36, of New York City, is due to be arraigned in federal court in Burlington on March 10 on five charges, two of which carry a possible death sentence.

It will be up to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Aletras.

An indictment issued last month by a grand jury alleges Aletras killed accomplice Kevin Arkenau in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., following the December 2002 marijuana robbery in South Burlington.

Vermont U.S. Attorney Tom Anderson said the decision was made to prosecute the case in Vermont after he consulted the other prosecutors who had potential jurisdiction. He wouldn’t be more specific.

“The whole transaction began in Vermont,” Anderson said.

The lawyer listed on the court Web site as being Aletras’ defense attorney did not return a call seeking comment.

If the Justice Department decides to seek the death penalty against Aletras it would be the third case in the last decade in Vermont, which does not have a state death penalty, which has carried with it the possibility the defendant could be executed.

Charges stemming from a 1998 bombing resulted in a guilty plea in exchange for a sentence of life without parole. The other case, a 2000 abduction and homicide, resulted in Vermont’s first death sentence in almost 50 years.

The defendant in that case, Donald Fell, 27, is on death row at the U.S. Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

The lead prosecutor in the Aletras case is Assistant U.S. Attorney William Darrow, part of the team that successfully prosecuted Fell, who was formally sentenced to death in 2006, a year after a jury found him guilty and recommended the sentence.

The Fell case is now being appealed. No execution date has been set.

Vermont Law School Professor Michael Mello said the Bush administration’s Justice Department was working hard to ensure that the death penalty was applied evenly across the country.

“It was this idea of national uniformity, the idea of whether you live or die should not turn on the fortuity of whether you are charged in Vermont or New York,” Mello said.

Anderson said his office had made a recommendation to the Justice Department on whether to seek the death penalty against Aletras, although he would not say what that recommendation was. Mukasey is not required to follow that recommendation.

Anderson said the decision could come within a few weeks, although it could take much longer.

In the Fell case, former Attorney General John Ashcroft overruled Vermont’s previous U.S. Attorney Peter Hall, who did not want to seek the death penalty in the case.

Mellow said Ashcroft was personally lobbied by the family of Terry King, the 53-year-old woman abducted as she arrived for work at a Rutland supermarket in November 2000. She was beaten to death in New York State by Fell and co-defendant Robert Lee, who died in prison before he could be brought to trial.

Chris Dean, 45, was originally facing the death sentence on charges he sent a bomb via a delivery service in 1998 that killed Christopher Marquis, 17, of Fair Haven, in retaliation for a CB radio deal arranged over the Internet that went bad. In 2000 he pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

AP-ES-02-22-08 1640EST


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