Supreme Court rejects death row appeal over anti-gay jurors
The high court is again rejecting a gay death row inmate's appeal that claims jurors in South Dakota were biased against him because of his sexual orientation.
By Brooke Sopelsa and Associated Press
The Supreme Court is again rejecting a gay death row inmate's appeal that claims jurors in South Dakota were biased against him because of his sexual orientation.
The justices did not comment Monday in leaving in place the death sentence for Charles Rhines.
Rhines was convicted in the stabbing death of Donnivan Schaeffer, 22, while burglarizing a Rapid City doughnut shop in March 1992. A jury convicted Rhines in 1993, and the state Supreme Court affirmed his sentence and conviction in 1996.
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His appeal followed the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling that evidence of racial bias in the jury room allows a judge to consider setting aside a verdict.
According to court documents included in Rhines’ appeal, several jurors made comments about Rhines’ sexuality and its impact on their decision to recommend the death penalty in lieu of life without the possibility of parole.
Juror Harry Kenney, in a sworn statement, said the jurors knew that Rhines "was a homosexual and thought the he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.”
Juror Bennett Blake, according to court documents, said there was “lots of discussion of homosexuality” among the jurors and “a lot of disgust.”
Juror Frances Cerosimo recalled in a 2016 sworn statement that another juror, whom she did not name, said, “if he’s gay, we’d be sending him where he wants to go if we voted for" life without the possibility of parole.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit racial justice legal group that had filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to hear Rhines’ case, issued a statement critical of the high court’s decision, saying “sexual orientation discrimination has no place in the administration of justice.”
“Allowing Charles Rhines’ death sentence to stand defies Constitutional protections and breaks with Supreme Court precedent,” Daniel Harawa, assistant counsel at LDF, wrote. “The Supreme Court is uniquely empowered to eradicate discrimination from the jury system, and this disappointing decision undermines public confidence in the administration of justice and the rule of law.”
The Supreme Court justices rejected a similar appeal from Rhines last year.