Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with information regarding the status of the appeal.
Several civil rights organizations have filed a brief on behalf of a man who may have gotten the death penalty because he’s gay.
In 1993, Charles Rhines was convicted of stabbing a man to death, and the jury in South Dakota recommended the death penalty.
Now there’s evidence that the jury thought that a men’s prison would be “sending him where he wants to go,” since Rhines is gay, so they opted for the death penalty.
Several jurors have come forward saying that other jurors were making comments about Rhines’s sexuality. One juror recalled that there was “a lot of disgust” during deliberations about how Rhines was gay.
Another said that a juror said that Rhines wouldn’t mind life in prison. “It was not a joke,” she said.
A juror recalled someone saying, “if he’s gay, we’d be sending him where he wants to go,” referring to life in prison.
The jury also asked the judge several questions about what life would be like in prison for Rhines. They asked if Rhines would “be allowed to mix with the general inmate population.” They wanted to know if he could “brag about his crime to other inmates, especially new and/or young men.” They asked if he would have “conjugal visits” and a cellmate.
Six civil rights organizations – the ACLU, the ACLU of South Dakota, Lambda Legal, GLAD, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and National LGBT Bar Association – believe that these questions show that the jury was overly concerned with the fact that Rhines is gay.
Charles Rhines isn’t an easy person to defend – no one is debating whether he killed Donnivan Schaeffer in 1992. He did, and he killed him in a particularly brutal way.
But his case presents a chance to address jury bias against LGBTQ people.
“Mr. Rhines’s case represents one of the most extreme forms anti-LGBT bias can take,” said Lambda Legal’s Ethan Rice.
“Evidence suggests that he has been on death row for the past 25 years because he is a gay man. The constitutional right to a fair trial must include the right to establish whether a verdict or sentence was imposed due to jury bias.”