The Supreme Court is again rejecting a gay death row inmate’s appeal that claims jurors in South Dakota were biased against him because of his sexual orientation.
Charles Russell Rhines, now 62, was sentenced to death in 1993 after being convicted of murder for fatally stabbing doughnut shop employee, Donnivan Schaeffer, while robbing the Rapid City, South Dakota, store in 1992.
Rhines’ legal team took his death row appeal to the Supreme Court, arguing that Rhines sexual orientation influenced the outcome, claiming that his jury opted for the lethal punishment because Rhines is gay.
On Monday, the justices opted to leave Rhines’ death sentence in place. No comment about their decision was issued.
Justices had rejected a similar appeal from Rhines in 2018.
Rhines’ appeal followed the high court’s 2017 ruling that evidence of racial bias in the jury room allows a judge to consider setting aside a verdict.
Rhines claimed one juror made a joke saying that ‘Rhines might enjoy a life in prison where he would be among so many men’.
In 2015, Rhines’ new lawyers began seeking interviews in an effort to shore up their appeal and, in a 2016 sworn statement, juror Frances Cersosimo claimed that a member of the jury said: ‘If he’s gay, we’d be sending him where he wants to go.’
Meanwhile, juror Bennett Blake alleged to an investigator: ‘There was lots of discussion of homosexuality. There was a lot of disgust. This is a farming community.’
And, juror Harry Keeney, said in a 2016 sworn statement: ‘We also knew he was a homosexual and thought he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.’
Although Rhines’ death sentence was upheld in August 2018, it was thought that the new filing could bring about a different result.
Jurors are not supposed to talk about deliberations. However, in the Peña Rodriguez v. Colorado case, a rare challenge of a conviction was allowed thanks to a 5-to-3 vote two years ago after claims of racial bias.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has said: ‘Racial bias implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns.’
But when asked by Chief Justice Roberts whether it could be allowed in cases of homophobia, he wrote: ‘Sexual orientation is not immutable to the same extent as race.
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SOURCE: Daily Mail / AP