Supreme Court Won't Hear Appeal of Man Claiming Antigay Bias Led to Death Sentence

Charles Rhines

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear the appeal of a gay man, convicted of murder, who claimed he was sentenced to death rather than to life in prison because jurors thought prison would be enjoyable for him, NBC News reports.

The court rejected Rhines’s case without comment, as is usually the practice.

Rhines was sentenced to death in 1993 for the 1992 murder of Donnivan Schaeffer, an employee of a Rapid City, S.D., doughnut shop Rhines was in the process of robbing. Rhines, who had formerly worked at the shop, was going through a desk in the office after business hours, looking for money, when Schaeffer, a courier, interrupted him. Rhines stabbed Schaeffer to death. Rhines has avoided execution through a series of appeals.

Rhines and his lawyers contended the jury in his case showed antigay bias in pronouncing the death sentence, and they wanted the Supreme Court to order a new sentencing hearing.

“There was lots of discussion of homosexuality” during the sentencing process, one juror recalled in a court affidavit. “There were lots of folks who were like, ‘Ew, I can’t believe that.’” Another said the jury thought Rhines “shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.” According to a third, a fellow juror said that sentencing Rhines to life in prison would amount to “sending him where he wants to go.”

Generally, jurors’ comments are not admissible in court, but last year the Supreme Court said exceptions could be made, such as in cases where jurors showed racial bias. In filing the appeal, Rhines’s lawyers said antigay prejudice should be treated in the same way.

Lawyers for the state of South Dakota, in their brief to the court, argued that antigay bias has not been as destructive as racial bias in the nation’s history, and also contended that the jurors’ statements about such bias in Rhines’s case were not credible, as they were made years after the fact.

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