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Spencer Weiner-Pool

A South Dakota Man May Have Been Sentenced To Death Because He's Gay

A South Dakota jury may have sentenced a man to death instead of life in prison because of his sexual orientation. According to several 2016 sworn statements, one juror said deliberations about Charles Rhines' sexuality played a major role in his sentencing.

“If he’s gay, we’d be sending him where he wants to go,” Frances Cersosimo who served on the jury recalled. She would not identify the juror who made the comment.

Another juror Henry Keeney said he believed Rhines deserved to die after encountering the victim, Donnivan Schaeffer in 1992 during a robbery of Rapid City doughnut shop. Keeney also said Rhines' homosexuality was the reason he didn't vote in favor of life in prison.

We also knew he was a homosexual and thought he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison,” Mr. Keeney also said in a 2016 sworn statement.

The jurors sentenced Rhines to death and he's been on death row ever since. Over the years, Rhines has had several lawyers appeal his conviction for various reason. In 2015, his new legal counsel obtained sworn statements from jurors and his appeal is now being heard by the Supreme Court on the grounds a biased jury deprived him of a fair trial.

Jury deliberations are normally secret and misconduct in jury chambers cannot be used to change a conviction. Two years ago, however, the New York Times report in the case of Peno Rodriguez v. Colorado an exception was made, stating that bringing the deliberations to light was more important than keeping them secret.

In hopes the Supreme Court doesn't take on Rhines' case, South Dakota's Attorney General Jason R. Ravnsborg said racial bias discrimination was more pronounced than prejudice based on sexual orientation.

"Sexual orientation is not immutable to the same extent as race,” he wrote.“No civil war has been fought over it,” he added. “No politician has ever proposed constructing a wall to keep homosexuals out of the country.”

There are a number of hurdles Rhines must face and surpass before the Supreme Court hears his case, and that's still not a guarantee things will go in his favor.

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California Approves Bill Banning Racial Discrimination Based On Hairstyles

California is set to become the latest state to ban racial discrimination based on hairstyles. Senate Bill 188, also known as The Crown Act, was introduced by state Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) in January and unanimously approved in a 37-0 vote Monday (April 22).

The bill outlines the proximity between race and hair and how the history of the U.S. has been “riddled with laws and societal norms” that equate  “blackness’” which includes physical traits such as “dark skin, kinky and curly hair” with inferiority, and therefore subjecting black people to “separate and unequal treatment.”

“This idea also permeated societal understanding of professionalism,” Morgan states in the bill. “Professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional.

“Despite the great strides American society and laws have made to reverse the racist ideology that Black traits are inferior, hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals,” Morgan continues.

Furthermore, dress codes and grooming policies prohibiting “natural hair” have a “disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group.”

The 1964 Civil Rights Act banning racial discrimination extends to afros as well, but doesn’t include other hairstyles. As pointed out in SB 188, “courts do not understand that afros are not the only natural presentation of Black hair. Black hair can also be naturally presented in braids, twists, and locks.”

Although the bill has yet to be signed into law, the state isn't alone in making moves to end the racist bias against natural hair. In February, New York City passed a similar bill in February imposing a $250,000 penalty for hair discrimination.

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Scott Olson

13-Year-Old Texas Girl Dies After Being Jumped By Three Teens

A 13-year-old Texas girl was placed on life support after being jumped by three teenage girls last week, and the New York Daily News confirms the teen died.

Kashala Francis was walking home from Attucks Middle School Thursday (April 18) when she was jumped by two girls and kicked in the head by another. Cellphone recording of the incident shows the attackers laughing.

The girl's mother Mamie Jackson told reporters that Kashala came home with a bruise on her face, told her what happened but insisted she was fine. However, things quickly got worse.

On the following Saturday, Jackson says Kashala went to a family member's house and was told she became delusional but was able to gather her bearings. On Sunday (April 21), Kashala called her mother and complained she felt weak and had a painful headache before lying down.

Jackson said soon after she called the ambulance because Kashala was unconscious. While at Texas Children's Hospital, it was discovered she had a tumor in the back of her head and had fluid buildup in her brain.

On Wednesday morning (April 24) Kashala died. Pending an autopsy, it's unclear if the young girl had the tumor prior to the fight, or if being kicked in the head caused the tumor, which resulted in her death.

Until the autopsy can make the distinction, the case is being investigated as a homicide.

In an emailed sent to The Daily News, the school district stated it's offering students access to grief counselors.

"[The district] is deeply saddened to learn of the death of one of our students. We extend our sincere condolences to the student’s family, friends, teachers, and classmates."

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Second Man Convicted In The 1998 Death Of James Byrd Jr To Be Executed

In 1998, Jasper, Texas became the epicenter of the nation when James Byrd Jr's dismembered body was found outside of a predominately black church. The rest of his body was found about a mile and a half away.

Byrd was beaten by three white supremacists men and tied to the back of a pick-up truck and reportedly dragged three miles. All men were found guilty for his brutal murder. One was sentenced to life in prison, one was executed in 20111 and another will be put to death today (April 24).

According to CNN, Jon William King, 44 who's been on death row for 20 years, will die by lethal injection.

King has long maintained coconspirator Shawn Berry was solely responsible for Byrd's death. King has appealed his conviction, alleging ineffectiveness from his defense team. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his case last October.

In 2011, Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed and Shawn Berry was sentenced to life. While murders are devastating, Byrd's dragging death placed a blinding spotlight on the racial tension in America. The fallout from the case helped to pass the nation's hate crime bill, named after both Byrd and Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming teen who was viciously beaten to death.

Byrd's family, however, have opposed the death penalty and made it clear they would prefer that King be sentenced to life in prison. Byrd's son Ross has been quoting saying, "You cannot fight murder with murder."

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