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062619-nws-rhines

Charles Rhines in a December 2017 photo taken by the Department of Corrections.

The South Dakota Supreme Court and a federal appeals court both rejected lawsuits on Friday from a Rapid City man convicted of a 1992 murder who's set to be executed as soon as next Sunday.

A jury sentenced Charles Rhines to death in 1993 after finding him guilty of premeditated first-degree murder for stabbing Donnivan Schaeffer, a 22-year-old from Black Hawk, while burglarizing a Rapid City doughnut shop.

Rhines asked the South Dakota Supreme Court court for a stay, or delay in his execution, according to court records. He also filed a lawsuit arguing that the Department of Corrections' written policy on the execution is invalid because it wasn't made through the rule-making requirements of South Dakota's Administrative Procedure Act, or APA. 

But on Friday the court rejected the motion and upheld the Minnehaha court's decision to reject the lawsuit. The justices said the DOC policy doesn't fit into the APA's definition of a rule, and therefore doesn't need to follow APA rule-making requirements. They also said the state has other authority, not just the DOC policy, to conduct executions. 

"These decisions by the South Dakota Supreme Court brings us two steps closer to both justice and closure for the family of Donnivan Schaeffer,” Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg said in a news release. "Donnivan’s life was savagely ended by Charles Rhines, who has now been on death row for five years more than Donnivan lived. We continue to seek justice for Donnivan. It is time for this process to be over so the family can heal.”

Rhines also asked the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to find that a lower federal court was wrong to say it had no authority to force South Dakota prison officials to allow him to meet with mental health experts retained by his lawyers in order to prepare a clemency application, according to court documents. 

A panel of three appellate judges dismissed the lawsuit, saying the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that judges should only intervene in state clemency cases in extreme cases, and that Gov. Kristi Noem can consider all evidence, including the absence of expert evaluations, in making a decision about clemency. One of the judges also said that Rhines can still ask Noem for access to his mental health experts

"Whether Rhines is deserving of clemency is now properly in the hands of the Governor," the judge wrote. 

But Noem has said she has no plans to stop the execution. 

“Once again we are pleased that we are progressing towards justice for Donnivan Schaeffer and closure for his family,” Ravnsborg said in a second news release. “This dismissal by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals further shows that Rhines has had his day in court at the state and federal levels and the hour of justice is rapidly approaching after 27 years of suffering by the Schaeffer family.”

Rhines still has an open lawsuit accusing the state of violating his right to choose how he is put to death and he previously tried to appeal his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court declined to hear it. He argued his sentence is unconstitutional because jurors were homophobic and decided to sentence him to death rather than life in prison because they thought he would enjoy being in prison with other men. His lawyers said an original jury note and recent interviews with jurors show they were motivated by homophobia.

Journal archives show jurors found multiple aggravating factors — killing for money, killing a witness to a crime and killing with a depraved mind — in the murder when only one is required for the death penalty. Jurors who spoke with the Journal at the time said they discussed the aggravating factors and if they felt Rhines deserved the death penalty. One woman said she thought about the images of Schaeffer — who was stabbed in the stomach, back and skull — and how awful it was.

Ravnsborg said the jury sentenced Rhines to death due to the "heinous nature" of the crime, not because they were homophobic and that his homophobia argument didn't come until years after the trial.

The hearing on the drug lawsuit is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 in Sioux Falls while Rhines is scheduled to be executed between Nov. 3 and 9. The exact execution date will be announced at least 48 hours in advance. 

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— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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