Last Updated on November 5, 2019
In 1993, Charles Rhines stabbed Donnivan Schaeffer through the back of the skull with a hunting knife in a doughnut shop in Rapid City, South Dakota. Over a quarter-century later, the ACLU is fighting to save his life based on his sexual orientation.
On Monday, the ACLU released an article titled “A Jury May Have Sentenced a Man to Death Because He Is Gay. It’s Time for a Federal Court to Hear His Bias Claim.”
The Twitter caption attached to the piece was even more salacious, stating: “the evidence that anti-gay bias played a role in this sentence is undeniable.”
The execution of Charles Rhines is scheduled for today at 1:30 pm CT. The evidence that anti-gay bias played a role in this sentence is undeniable.
SCOTUS can and must step in to order the district court to hear new evidence.https://t.co/a4zveKIKRt
— ACLU (@ACLU) November 4, 2019
In reality, Rhines is a self-admitted sociopath who has never denied his role in Schaeffer’s murder.
But in a lengthy series of correspondence with local paper the Argus Leader, Rhines has maintained that he does not deserve to die.
Via the Argus Leader:
The Rhines case might seem like a robbery gone wrong, but the people involved see it as much more than that — especially given his behavior after the crime.
Steve Allender, now the Rapid City Police Chief, spent months tracking the killer before Rhines was captured in Seattle.
“It was evil. I’ve been in this business for 30 years, and the only nightmare I’ve ever had about police work was about him,” Allender said. “I feared him to a great extent.”
Donnivan Schaeffer was working as a courier March 8, 1992. He was picking up supplies from Dig ’Em Donuts as Rhines, a former shop employee, was rooting though an office desk for cash.
Schaeffer walked into the office, and Rhines sprung upon him with a hunting knife, stabbing him twice.
The young man pleaded, begging Rhines to take him to the hospital as he was lead into a storeroom and sat on a wooden pallet.
“ ‘Yeah, right, Donnivan. I’m going to call you an ambulance. You bet,’ ” Allender recalls Rhines saying.
Instead, the two-time felon leaned his victim forward on the pallet, applied the hunting knife to the back of his neck and shoved it into his skull.
His body was seen by Sam Harter, Rhines’ roommate. Rhines threatened to kill Harter’s family if he turned him in. And the two attended Schaeffer’s funeral together.
Given the fact that the case was open-and-shut, in addition to being being particularly savage and grotesque, one might wonder why the ACLU is so determined to stave off the death penalty.
The answer is Rhines’ sexuality, and the fact that he may have been discriminated against because of it.
In 2016, jurors from his trial came forward to explain the role Mr. Rhines’s sexual orientation played in the decision to sentence him to death. Once Mr. Rhines learned of the anti-gay statements made during jury deliberations, he asked a federal trial judge to allow him to update his petition to add this new information. At every turn, Mr. Rhines’s pleas have been rejected. As a result, no federal judge has even considered the jurors’ statements to determine whether anti-gay bias was a motivation for the jury to sentence Mr. Rhines to death.
Fortunately, it isn’t too late for the Eighth Circuit to change that. As the civil rights groups explained in their friend-of-the-court brief, our judicial system has safeguards to prevent bias based on sexual orientation — but those safeguards are not failsafe. When they do fail, federal courts have a duty to step in to ensure that “our law punishes people for what they do, not who they are.”
Given the fact that Schaeffer’s murder fits several of the required factors for a Class A felony first-degree murder, it’s unclear how the sentencing would have been lighter if Schaeffer was a heterosexual.
The ACLU is currently lobbying to have Rhine’s execution overturned by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals based on the discriminatory thoughts of jurors, arguing that it was the “difference between life and death.”
Unfortunately, Donnivan Schaeffer’s right to escape death expired when he was murdered by Rhines in 1993.
UPDATE: Charles Rhines was successfully executed at 7:39 p.m. Monday evening.