Discrimination Sentenced Man To Death But Supreme Court Doesn’t Care

A jury sentenced a man to death, not for the crime he has committed, but because he is gay. No, this is not a news report from a country were being gay is punishable by death. This discrimination against the LBGT Community is happening right here in the USA. And the Supreme Court Justices are turning a blind eye.

Jury deliberations are usually regarded as too important or valuable to be interfered with, and thus deemed untouchable. But not long ago the Supreme Court ruled that this doesn’t apply to for cases of racial bias. It ruled that courts must make an exception to the rule of jury deliberations being secret when evidence emerges that those discussions were marred by racial or ethnic bias. Because, duh, it is unconstitutional. Furthermore, it interferes with an accused’s person right to a fair and impartial trial.

Is anti-L.G.B.T. discrimination any less objectionable? Specially when it seems to be the deciding factor between a death sentence and life in prison without parole. Read what happened.

The crime

After getting fired from his job at a Dig ’Em Donuts shop Rapid City in South Dakota, Charles Rhines kept the key to the shop. He then used it a few weeks later, on the evening of March 8, 1992, to enter the closed shop.

With the use of a flashlight he walked to the store’s office to steal whatever money he could find. But when Donnivan Schaeffer, a courier, unexpectantly entered the office, Rhines pulled a knife from his bag and stabbed the courier three times. Donnivan Schaeffer did not survive the attack.

The following year, Charles Rhines was tried and sentenced to death. But it wasn’t the act of the crime that brought that sentence down on him.

Discrimination in the Jury Room

So, what went on in that Jury room? There were early signs that the jury might be considering more than just the facts when deciding on the sentencing.

During deliberation, the panel sent a note to the Judge with a few questions about what Life in Prison actually means. They wanted to know if Rhines would be in a cell with other inmates. And if he would be allowed to create a group of “followers or admirers.” Also if Rhines  would be allowed to “have conjugal visits.” The note ended with an apology should any of the questions be “inappropriate,” but that they were important to their decision-making. The Judge declined to answer their questions and pointed out that all they needed to know was in the Jury Instructions.

Death row inmate Charles Rhines in the 1990s in Rapid City, S.D. Photo: Rapid City Journal/ap

Confessions of discrimination against gay people

Later, when lawyers interviewed the members of the Jury, they were told the members knew that Rhines was gay. “There was lots of discussion of homosexuality”in the jury room, one one of the jurors revealed. “There was a lot of disgust.”

“This is a farming community,” the juror said. “There were a lot of folks who were like, ‘Ew, I can’t believe that.'” Some jurors said that sending Rhines to life with other men in prison would not be a punishment. One even claimed that “if he’s gay we’d be sending him where he wants to go.”

It seems clear that the decision to sentence Rhines to death rather than sending him to life in prison without the possibility of parole was based on the jurors discrimination against homosexual people.

Accordingly, Rhine’s newly appointed federal capital defenders who found the note appealed to the Supreme Court. There are horrible criminals out there who commit unspeakable crimes, but being gay is not a crime. It certainly should not be a death sentence.

At the Supreme Court

the justices would not even hear Rhine’s discrimination claim. They rejected his plea for them to review the case and allowed his death sentence to stand. They obviously have their reasons. Only they are not sharing them with anyone. What’s up with that? There is enough evidence that Rhine did not receive a fair and just trial due to a bias Jury, and yet the Justices don’t even care.

Chase Strangio, a staff attorney with the LGBT Project of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “It’s hard to imagine how there’s not bias just by evidence of the fact that Rhine’s sexual orientation was being considered. If this was a heterosexual defendant in a robbery-murder, would there be any mention of this? No.”

“The law certainly has room to recognize that anti-LGBT bias in the criminal legal system taints the constitutional guarantees that criminal defendants should absolutely be entitled to, particularly capital defendants who are literally facing the deprivation of their lives,” he continued.

It clearly is troubling that in a Western country where discrimination against certain groups of people is against the law, that someone will be executed under the circumstances of bias in the Jury room.

Discrimination against gay people

Discrimination in the courtrooms still happen on a daily basis across the U.S. Make sure to share this.
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