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South Dakota gay man executed despite evidence jury was tainted with antigay bias

Photo credit:
Lambda Legal

Charles Rhines was on death row in South Dakota for stabbing a 22-year-old man back in 1992. He was executed yesterday despite evidence presented to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) that some on the jury were biased against gays. SCOTUS rejected that motion. 

The jury found Rhines guilty, but in determining how severe his punishment should be, they discovered he was gay, and decided on the death penalty because according to Lambda Legal the jury said, "he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison” and thought that “if he’s gay we’d be sending him where he wants to go if we voted for [life in prison]."

Following the news of Rhines’s tragic execution, Ethan Rice, Lambda Legal Fair Courts Project Senior Attorney, made the following statement:

“No person in our society should be put to death. Cases where bias is a factor in jury decision-making show exactly why the death penalty is unjust and should not be maintained in our society. 

“Mr. Rhines’s case represents one of the most extreme forms anti-LGBT bias can take. It’s evident that the he was sentenced to death because he was a gay man. We are deeply troubled that the court chose not to review his case today when it is clear that the constitutional right to a fair trial must include whether jury deliberations involved bias.

“If our legal system allows antigay bias in jury deliberations, the integrity of our entire court system is undermined. The death penalty is an irreversible and harsh misuse of government power. When it is applied in a biased manner, courts should take every possible opportunity to correct that wrong. In this case, no court has ever reviewed the evidence of antigay bias that occurred during jury deliberations in Mr. Rhines’s sentencing.”

Richard Saenz, Senior Attorney and the Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist: 

“Lambda Legal opposes the death penalty precisely because we deal with the legal system’s fallibility and the effects of bias on court decisions every day. We are saddened by Charles Rhines’s death, and we will continue to fight for fair courts, push for more safeguards in the legal system to preserve the courts and weed out jury bias and discrimination against LGBT people and everyone living with HIV.”

Background

Last year, Lambda Legal and five other civil rights organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief following the discovery of comments from jurors suggesting that sentencing Mr. Rhines to life in prison with other men would be “sending him where he wants to go.”

The brief provided information about the long and painful history of discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in the United States and asked the court to issues a certificate of appealability to Mr. Rhines to allow him to present evidence of juror bias.”

More information on the case and the amicus brief is available HERE and HERE. :