Supreme Court won't hear death penalty appeal alleging anti-gay remarks from jurors

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the case of a gay South Dakota man who alleges that homophobia played a role in his death penalty sentence.

Charles Rhines, who was convicted of murder in 1993, claimed that members of the jury made anti-gay statements that influenced their decision to sentence him to death and that a 2017 Supreme Court ruling that states must consider racist sentiments of jurors should apply to his case as well.

But the court's decision to not review his case prevents them from expanding the scope of that ruling and keeps Rhines's death sentence in place.

ADVERTISEMENT

Rhines alleged that several jurors made anti-gay comments during the course of his trial, with one juror allegedly saying that Rhines “was a homosexual and thought that he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.”

Rhines claimed that another juror said that a member of the jury made “a comment that if he’s gay, we’d be sending him where he wants to go if we voted” to sentence him to life in prison.

A third juror allegedly said the panel had “lots of discussion of homosexuality” and “a lot of disgust.”

Rhines argued that a 2017 divided Supreme Court ruling that a judge might reject a verdict if there is evidence of jurors using racial stereotypes or sentiments during non-death penalty convictions should also be used in his case, pointing to the severity of his sentence.

Several LGBT rights groups had advocated on behalf of Rhines in the case, including Lambda Legal, the National LGBT Bar Association and the ACLU.

Rhines was convicted of the 1992 murder of Donnivan Schaeffer at a donut shop where Schaeffer worked.

The state, which said that Rhines didn't have standing to make his claim of anti-gay bias, argued that jurors made their decision to sentence Rhines to death over the "calloused and gruesome nature of the murder."