alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.

Supreme Court Rejects Death Penalty Appeal for Gay Man Sentenced to Die Because Jurors Thought He’d Enjoy Prison

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear the case of a gay man, Charles Rhines, who says he was given the death penalty because jurors thought sending him to an all-male prison for life would be "sending him where he wants to go," to quote one juror. In other words, jurors allowed their prejudices of gay people to influence their decision.


"Before South Dakota jurors decided the fate of Charles Rhines in 1993, they sent a handwritten note to the judge. They had just found Rhines guilty of fatally stabbing 22-year-old Donnivan Schaeffer, an employee of Dig ‘Em Donuts in Rapid City, during a robbery a year earlier. But now they had some questions," The Marshall Project reports.

"If they didn’t vote for the death penalty, what would his life in prison look like? Would he be 'allowed to mix with the general inmate population'? Would he be able 'to create a group of followers or admirers'? Would he have a cellmate?"

“There was lots of discussion of homosexuality,” one juror recalled, according to affidavits later filed in court. “There were lots of folks who were like, ‘Ew, I can’t believe that.’” Another juror said they “knew that he was a homosexual and thought that he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.” A third recalled overhearing a fellow juror say that life in prison would mean “sending him where he wants to go.”

The State of South Dakota argued in its brief to the Supreme Court that homophobia in America has never been as harmful as racism.

"The state’s lawyers," the Marshall Project continues, "argue that discrimination against sexual minorities has not been as destructive — and thus in need of policing by the courts — as racial discrimination. 'No politician has ever proposed constructing a wall to keep homosexuals out of the country,' the state’s brief says. 'No civil war has been fought over [sexual orientation]. No nationwide pogrom has been perpetrated for the enslavement or eradication of homosexuals.'"

Discrimination doesn't have to be equal to be harmful.

The State also argued that there were plenty of other reasons to preserve the death penalty decision, including Rhines' own gruesome "bloodcurdling confession," and inhumane actions.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

Close