UPDATE: 12 November 2019
On 04 November 2019 – At 7:39 p.m., convicted killer Charles Rhines was executed by means of lethal injection in South Dakota after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a last-minute appeal to stay the execution. The condemned languished on death row for 27-years after being convicted for fatally stabbing a former co-worker in a 1992 burglary. His last words were recorded as follows:
“Ed and Peggy Schaeffer, I forgive you for your anger and hatred toward me. I pray to God that he forgives you for your anger and hatred toward me. Thanks to my team. I love you all, goodbye. Let’s go. That’s all I have to say. Goodbye.”
Supporters of the Dead Man Walking had argued that Rhines was executed for being a homosexual. According to his attorneys, the jury who convicted his client couldn’t live with the thought that if they gave Rhines a life sentence, he might “have fun” and “enjoy sex” with other men in prison. An admitted gay man, the jury seemed disturbed at the fact Rhines was gay and living in their “farming community.” Despite a rather large public outcry accusing the jury of sending Rhines to death because of his sexuality, the high court REFUSED to consider whether the verdict was biased. Of course, there is the underlying murder Mr. Rhines committed after being caught red-handed burglarizing a doughnut shop by twenty-two-year-old, Donnivan Schaeffer. As the victim pled for his life, Rhines allegedly thrust a knife into the base of Schaeffer’s skull killing him instantly. Because the murder was committed during the commission of a felony (burglary), it made Rhines a candidate for the Death Penalty.
First-degree murder is a Class-A Felony in South Dakota, most often punishable by life imprisonment. It’s the only Class-A (Worst Kind) felony in the state. According to the legislature, there must be mitigating circumstances in order to find a defendant eligible for the death penalty. Those circumstances are pretty standard across the country. If a murder is committed by someone with a prior conviction of a Class-A or B-felony, or if the homicide was committed during the commission of a crime (Like Burglary), South Dakota’s law allows juries to impose a sentence of death if: “the murder was committed for the benefit of the defendant or another or for the purpose of receiving money or any other thing of monetary value.”
Clearly, the crime meets the standard of the legislation. However, the argument was made to the jury, that in this case, Rhines would be locked away and having fun in prison with other males implying he’d be having sex with them. So, the jurors gave Rhines the death penalty to prevent the perceived approval of such behavior. This was evidenced by the fact Jurors sent the judge a note asking if Rhines would be housed in the general population, or if he would “brag” to “young men” about his crime, get married or have conjugal visits. They also had a serious issue with the defendant having a male cellmate. Lawyers pointed to myriad jurors who made public declarations admitting their homophobia warped the deliberations.
One juror went on the record saying sentencing a gay man to prison would be “sending him where he wants to go.” Another said Rhines “shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.” A third juror went farther: “There was a lot of disgust” in the jury’s deliberation room. “This is a farming community.”
Advocates for the condemned said the appeal would prevail because Bias is biasing. Obviously, the court didn’t see it that way, ruling that jury deliberations could be impeached if jurors were deliberating with racial bias. Thus, his attorney’s argued, if racism can vacate a jury’s verdict then shouldn’t homophobia? The court disagreed.