Nearly 26 years to the day since being sentenced to death for the stabbing murder of young man in Rapid City, Charles Rhines is slated to be executed Monday, Nov. 4.
Rhines, 63, has been behind bars since shortly after he killed Donnivan Schaeffer, who was 22, on March 8, 1992. Schaeffer was an employee of the Rapid City donut shop that Rhines had recently been fired from and came back to burglarize.
Rhines confessed to torturing his victim and laughing at him as he pleaded for his life and leaving him to die from knife wounds. Rhines had been fired by the shop a few weeks earlier.
Rhines had a criminal record, including wiring a grain elevator with dynamite in an attempt to blow it up, had been dishonorably discharged from the military where he learned to use explosives, and tortured animals, according to childhood acquaintances and according to court documents.
He was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and on Oct. 29, 1993, sentenced to death in state court in Rapid City.
Rhines has appealed his sentence several times in several ways in state and federal court, leading one federal appeals court panel at one point to accuse him of “deliberately engaging in dilatory tactics and intentional delay . . .”
His appeals gained national attention n 2016 when his attorney found a note from jurors in the 1993 trial asking the judge what prison would be like for Rhines. The lawyer argued that the note indicated jurors thought being locked away with other men would not be much punishment for Rhines because he identified himself as gay, so decided on death as punishment.
Rhines has been on death row in the state prison in Sioux Falls, where he is described as a white male, 6 feet, 2 inches tall, 195 pounds, with blue eyes and brown hair.
On Thursday, Oct. 31, state Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg announced in a news release that state Circuit Judge Jon Sogn denied Rhines’ request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction and for a stay of execution.
“Justice for Donnivan (Schaeffer) is long overdue,” Ravnsborg said. “Our courts have recognized the constitutionality of the state’s execution protocol for years and that has been affirmed by Judge Sogn today. Rhines has had his day in court. It is now time for him to serve his sentence.”
On Thursday, Ravnsborg’s chief of staff, Tim Bormann, told the Capital Journal that his office was “not privy” yet to when the state warden had slated Rhines’ execution. State law directs the warden to release that information within 48 hours of the execution and releasing the information earlier is against state law, Bormann said in an email.
Shortly before 5 p.m., Friday, Nov. 1, Michael Winder, spokesman for the state Department of Corrections in Pierre released a short statement: “In accordance with South Dakota Codified Law 23A-27A-17, Director of Prison Operations and Chief Warden Darin Young has set the date and time for the execution of Inmate Charles Rhines for Monday, November 4, 2019 at 1:30 p.m.”
Winder then released an email giving news organizations information about covering the execution on Monday.
Also Friday, Rhines’ advocates indicated appeals still are being made, despite the failure of earlier ones this week.
On Friday, Nov. 1, Janna Farley of the American Civil Liberties Union in South Dakota said in a news release that Rhines’ legal team filed a petition for certiorari asking the U.S. Supreme Court to order a federal district court to hear “new evidence of some jurors’ anti-gay bias.”
Farley said more than one juror from 1993 “confirmed that Rhines’ sexual orientation was discussed at length during sentencing deliberations. One juror stated that Rhines ‘shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.’ Another recalled a juror commenting that ‘if he’s gay we’d be sending him where he wants to go if we voted for [life without parole].’ A third juror confirmed that ‘[t]here was lots of discussion of homosexuality. There was a lot of disgust.’”
The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to hear Rhines’ latest appeal, after it declined to hear it in 2018 and again in 2019, Farley said.
Late Thursday, Oct. 31, a state and a federal court each denied appeals, Farley said.
According to Farley, Ria Tabacco Mar, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement:
“Anti-gay bias played an undeniable role in Charles Rhines’ death sentence. This is irrevocably at odds with our Constitution and values. As Chief Justice Roberts has written, ‘[o]ur law punishes people for what they do, not who they are.’ The Court must make sure the new evidence of anti-gay prejudice is heard on the merits before Mr. Rhines is executed.”