The chilling last words of the man sentenced to death ‘because he was gay’

Charles Rhines death penalty

The state of South Dakota has executed murderer Charles Rhines, despite claims that the jury that sentenced him to death was biased against him because he was gay.

In 1992, Rhines attempted to rob his former place of work: Dig ’Em Donuts on West Main Street in Rapid City, South Dakota.

However he was interrupted by 22-year-old Donnivan Schaefer, who also worked at the shop. Rhines stabbed Schaefer in the stomach, then tied him up in the store room and stabbed him to death.

Rhines was convicted of first degree murder a year after his crime and then sentenced to death by a jury. But Rhines claimed, up until the day of his death, that the jury that convicted him was biased because of his sexual orientation.

In Supreme Court appeal paperwork from 2017, Rhines and his attorneys claimed that he was deprived of “his right to a fair trial by an impartial jury”, and that the decision to give him the death penalty rather than life without parole was based on homophobic bias.

It states: “Newly discovered information has disclosed that Mr Rhines’s homosexuality was definitely a focal point of the deliberations.

“Juror Frances Cersosimo recalled hearing an unidentified juror comment of Mr. Rhines ‘that if he’s gay we’d be sending him where he wants to go if we voted for [life without parole]’.

“Juror Harry Keeney stated that the jury ‘knew that [Mr. Rhines] was a homosexual and thought he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison’. Ex. C, Decl.

“Juror Bennett Blake confirmed that “[t]here was lots of discussion of homosexuality. There was a lot of disgust. This is a farming community… There were lots of folks who were like, ‘Ew, I can’t believe that.'”

The jury that sentenced gay murderer denied that his orientation formed part of their decision.

Investigator Brett Garland spoke with each of the jurors about whether they were biased because of Rhines’ orientation.

He confirmed in an affidavit that each of the jurors he spoke to knew that Rhines was gay, but that one said the comment about him enjoying prison was a “stab at humour”.

One juror, Judy Rohde, said they came to their decision because of Rhines’ apparent lack of remorse.

Garland wrote: “Rohde said the jury based its decision in the fact that Rhines had ‘brutally killed that kid, and intended to’.

“She mentioned that Rhines had even commented on how he could shove a knife through a person’s head to a certain point to kill them because he was military trained.

“Rohde remembered that, at one point, Rhines laughed because it did not kill the victim right away like Rhines thought it would.”

While the claim acknowledges that the jurors denied anti-gay bias, is states: “The newly discovered information establishes that these assertions were false.”

It was also revealed that the jury sent a note to the judge with a list of questions while making their decision. The questions included “Will Mr Rhines be jailed alone or will he have a cellmate?” and “Will Mr Rhines be allowed to marry or have conjugal visits?”

The appeal paperwork said these questions showed that the jury’s decision-making reflected “stereotypes” of gay men.

The Supreme Court rejected claims that Charles Rhines was sentenced to death by a jury with anti-gay bias.

The US Supreme Court rejected the claims that the jury was biased, and declined to hear Rhines’ case. He was executed on November 4 by lethal injection.

In his final words, he addressed the parents of his victim and said: “Ed and Peggy Schaeffer, I forgive you for your anger and hatred toward me. I pray to God that he forgives you for your anger and hatred toward me.

“Thanks to my team. I love you all, goodbye. Let’s go. That’s all I have to say. Goodbye.”


Activists for LGBT+ rights and those opposing the death penalty have called out Rhines’s execution as “unjust”, and have said that he should have been given life without parole.

Anti-death penalty activist Helen Prejean wrote on Twitter: “Charles, a gay man, was sentenced to death by homophobic jurors. They sent him to death row because he is gay. This is unconstitutional and just plain wrong.”

One of Rhines’ attorneys, Shawn Nolan, said in a statement: “It is very sad and profoundly unjust that the State of South Dakota today executed Charles Rhines, a gay man, without any court ever hearing the evidence of gay bias that infected the jury’s decision to sentence him to death.”