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N.Y. man could face federal death penalty in 2002 murder case

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Associated Press / February 23, 2008

MONTPELIER - A New York man suspected of killing an accomplice after 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 US Attorney General Michael Mukasey to decide whether to seek the death penalty against Aletras.

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

Vermont US Attorney Tom Anderson said he made the decision to prosecute the case in Vermont after he consulted the other prosecutors who had potential jurisdiction.

"The whole transaction began in Vermont," Anderson said.

The lawyer listed on the court website as being Aletras's defense lawyer 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 carrying a possible death sentence to be prosecuted in Vermont, which does not have a state death penalty.

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 in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind.

The lead prosecutor in the Aletras case is Assistant US Attorney William Darrow, a member of the team that prosecuted Fell.

Michael Mello, a professor at Vermont Law School, said the Bush administration's Justice Department is working hard to ensure that the death penalty is 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.

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