Gov. Noem not planning to stop inmate's execution
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Gov. Noem not planning to stop inmate's execution

Gov. Kristi Noem said Wednesday that 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 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.

A Pennington County jury decided in 1993 that Rhines was guilty of premeditated first-degree murder for stabbing Donnivan Schaeffer, a 22-year-old Black Hawk man, in the stomach, back and skull. Rhines attacked Schaeffer, his former co-worker, at the Rapid City doughnut shop he was recently fired from. The jury then decided that Rhines should be given the death penalty rather than life in prison. 

In a statement to The Associated Press, Noem said 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 in November.

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."

"Our position is that Charles Rhines's execution would violate a basic premise of our criminal justice system: Our law punishes people for what they do, not who they are," Ria Tabacco Mar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU, told the AP in an email Wednesday.

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.

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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