South Dakota governor not planning to stop inmate execution

The governor of South Dakota says she does not plan to stop the execution of a death row inmate who claims jurors were biased against him because he’s gay.

The American Civil Liberties Union is urging Gov. Kristi Noem to grant clemency to Charles Rhines. He was convicted of stabbing 22-year-old doughnut shop employee Donnivan Schaeffer to death during a 1992 burglary at the business in Rapid City, South Dakota.

In a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday, Noem said that the state Board of Pardons and Paroles reviewed Rhines’ application for clemency in December and denied it.

“I agree with the Board of Pardons and Paroles’ decision,” said the Republican governor, who was elected last November.

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Rhines has asked the courts to halt his lethal injection, which according to the ACLU is scheduled for early November. A spokesman for the South Dakota attorney general’s office said the office is looking at a November execution date.

A hearing to help determine the execution date is planned for June 25.

Rhines’ appeal followed a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2017 that evidence of racial bias in the jury room allows a judge to consider setting aside a verdict. Rhines, now 62, claims one juror said Rhines should not be sentenced to life in prison because he is gay and would be housed with other men.

The Supreme Court has rejected Rhines’ appeal twice, with the latest decision coming last month.

In a letter to Noem dated Monday, the ACLU contends that anti-gay bias against Rhines “factored into the jury’s decision to sentence him to death.” The organization asks Noem to “exercise compassion and commute Mr. Rhines’s sentence to life imprisonment without parole in this case.”

Rhines’ execution would be South Dakota’s first since Rodney Berget’s lethal injection in October. Berget was sentenced to death for killing corrections officer Ronald “R.J.” Johnson during a 2011 prison escape attempt. His execution was the state’s fourth since it reinstituted the death penalty in 1979.

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Follow Jeff Baenen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jeffbaenen .

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