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.