Six civil rights organizations have gotten in the ring to fight for a death row inmate who was found guilty by a homophobic jury.
The American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, Lambda Legal, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and National LGBT Bar Association have filed an amici brief advising the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the appeal of Charles Rhines.
In June, we shared with you the story of Charles Rhines. He was arrested after being caught in a deadly burglary of a doughnut shop in Rapid City, South Dakota in 1992.
While Rhines was convicted in 1993 for the murder and sentenced to death, evidence later arose that the jury that convicted him was biased. This evidence is three official statements from jurors who served during Rhines’s case.
As the Miami Herald wrote:
“One juror was quoted as saying that putting a gay man in prison would be ‘sending him where he wants to go.’ Another quoted a fellow juror as saying Rhines ‘shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.’ A third reported that, ‘There was a lot of disgust’ in the jury room. ‘This is a farming community.’”
While Rhines’s crime is very serious, his conviction to death because of a homophobic jury, who opted for him to not go to prison, doesn’t sit well with some. That includes the six organizations who have joined together to fight for him.
“New evidence confirms that some of the jurors who voted to impose the death penalty on Mr. Rhines did so because they thought the alternative – a life sentence in a men’s prison – was something he would enjoy as a gay man,” they shared in the brief. “Three jurors have made statements indicating that anti-gay prejudices played a significant role in the jury’s decision-making.”
“As Chief Justice Roberts has explained, the core premise of our criminal justice system is that ‘[o]ur law punishes people for what they do, not who they are.’ (Buck v. Davis) Bias based on a characteristic that cannot be changed, such as race or sexual orientation, goes against this foundational principle. Allowing bias to play any role in sentencing is especially alarming when the bias may have made the difference between life and death.”
Now, Rhines and his defense team have filed an Application for certificate of Appealabilty with the before mentioned U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The application can be viewed here and its exhibits can be seen here.
Will the support of these six major LGBTQ rights organizations give Rhines the yes that he needs or will his execution be upheld? We’ll see in due time.