As the Argus Leader was the first to report, Charles Rhines addressed the family of the late Donnivan Schaeffer — whom he murdered during a 1992 robbery — before he was put to death Monday.
“Ed and Peggy Schaeffer, I forgive you for your anger and hatred toward me,” he said, according to those present in the room. “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.”
After Rhines, who claimed his death penalty conviction was tainted by anti-gay bias in the courtroom, was executed following numerous unsuccessful appeals, his attorney called his death “profoundly unjust.”
“It is very sad and profoundly unjust that South Dakota today executed Charles Rhines, a gay man, without any court ever hearing the evidence of gay bias that infected the jury’s decision to sentence him to death,” Shawn Nolan of the Federal Community Defender Office in Philadelphia said in a statement.
This afternoon South Dakota will kill a man convicted in a brutal slaying, despite the killer’s claim that the jury’s sentence was tainted by anti-gay animus.
In 1992, Charles Rhines attempted to rob a donut shop in Rapid City, South Dakota. When he was spotted by 22-year-old delivery man Donnivan Schaeffer, Rhines stabbed Schaeffer, dragged him to a cooler while he begged for his life, and then stabbed him again, killing him.
At the time of his trial, there was no doubt as to Rhines’ guilt. But jurors also openly discussed how being a gay man should affect his sentence, according to later reports. Jurors speculated that sending Rhines to prison would be a reward, since he would be surrounded by men.
“We also knew he was a homosexual and thought he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison,” one juror reportedly said, while another recalled there “was lots of discussion of homosexuality” and “a lot of disgust” during jury deliberations.
“If he’s gay, we’d be sending him where he wants to go,” one juror concluded.
Those comments were cited during an inquiry into whether Rhines’ sentence should be reconsidered in light of juror bias. The American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP both supported a review of the case.
Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that juror deliberations, which are normally kept secret, could be investigated if there were signs of racial bias. Lawyers for Rhines asked the court to reconsider his sentence on similar grounds, arguing that the anti-gay bias was similarly urgent to address.
South Dakota Attorney General Jason R. Ravnsborg fought back against those claims, writing that “sexual orientation is not immutable to the same extent as race.” He said, “No civil war has been fought over it. No politician has ever proposed constructing a wall to keep homosexuals out of the country.”
Ravnsborg also pointed out that Rhines’ “chilling laughter during his confession while comparing young Donnivan Schaeffer’s death spasms to a decapitated chicken running around a barnyard, not his sexual orientation, was what drove them to impose a death sentence.”
While imprisoned, Rhines has been kept in solitary confinement, spending 23 hours a day in a one-person cell with 15 minutes to shower and 45 minutes for recreation. Rhines told the Argus Leader that he spends that time working out, reading, and doing crossword puzzles. He is only able to communicate with other prisoners by yelling from his cell.
The United Nations has condemned such prolonged isolation, with the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture calling for inmates to be held in solitary confinement for no more than 15 days.
If all goes according to schedule, the state will execute Rhines at 1:30 p.m. local time today.