Charles Rhines did not apologize before his execution for murdering Donnivan Schaeffer 27 years ago in a Rapid City doughnut shop or for the pain he caused his loved ones.
Instead, the 63-year-old death row inmate called Schaeffer’s parents hateful and angry, but said he forgives them.
“Ed and Peggy Schaeffer, I forgive you for your anger and hatred towards me. I pray to God that he forgives you for your anger and hatred towards me,” he said calmly and confidently into a boom mic as he lay strapped to a table inside the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls Monday evening.
“It was all about him,” Ed said after the execution. “It was still about him,” Peggy said, calling the comments surprising and “really odd.”
“We looked at each other” in the viewing room and “I almost had to laugh” Peggy added.
The Schaeffers said they were never angry at Rhines and didn’t hate him because they never knew him. Instead, they said, they hated what he did.
Rhines was burglarizing Dig 'Em Donuts on West Main Street late in the evening on March 8, 1992 when Schaeffer, his former co-worker, walked in. Rhines stabbed the 22-year-old Black Hawk resident twice before tying his hands behind his back and delivering a fatal blow to the back of his skull.
After months of detective work, Rhines was arrested in Seattle in June and extradited back to Rapid City in August. In January 1993, a Pennington County jury convicted him of premeditated first-degree murder and sentenced him to death.
But Rhines, who confessed the murder to police, was not executed until nearly 27 years later due to the many appeals and lawsuits he filed in state and federal court challenging his conviction and sentence.
Rhines was scheduled to be executed at 1:30 p.m. Central Time on Monday but the execution was put on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court announced around 6:30 p.m. that it declined to hear his three legal challenges.
One was about the execution drug being used, another alleged that the jury was motivated by homophobia to sentence him to death rather than life in prison where he could be around other men, and a third was about not being allowed to use mental health experts retained by his lawyers for a clemency petition.
But today’s delay was “no sweat” and a “piece of cake” compared to the 27 years they had to wait for justice, Peggy said.
Rhines was moved from a holding cell to the execution chamber within the prison’s health center at 7:02 p.m., Michael Winder, spokesman for the Department of Corrections, said at a news conference.
He was transferred and restrained to a table by 7:10 p.m. and had two IVs put into his arms by 7:18 p.m.
This reporter and the two other media witnesses — Jack Caudill from KOTA/KEVN and Dave Kolpack from the Associated Press — were brought into a witness room, which usually serves as an exam room, around 7:26 p.m. The blinds covering a three-foot by three-foot window into the execution chamber opened at 7:29 p.m.
There, Rhines lay on a white sheet and was draped in another white sheet that covered his entire body from his feet to his mid-chest. He had dark gray hair and a light gray mustache, wore large glasses and a bright orange short-sleeve shirt, and had his left arm extended to the side and secured with a brown leather strap.
He moved his left hand between the sign language symbol for love, and the shaka or hang loose hand gesture as DOC Secretary Mike Leidholt told Warden Darin Young that the execution could proceed.
“Do you have anything to say?” Young asked Rhines. “Yes I do,” Rhines said before making his comments about the Schaeffers.
“Thanks to my team,” Rhines continued. “I love you all. Goodbye. Let’s go. That’s all I have to say. Goodbye.”
The pentobarbital, a barbiturate that slows the central nervous system, began flowing at 7:31 p.m. and was administered by an unknown person behind a one-way mirror. Four tubes — two blue and two clear — ran through the wall near the mirror but only one clear one could be seen going into Rhines’ left arm.
Rhines closed his eyes and blinked a few times before blinking rapidly. At some point he said “sis” or something similar before his head turned to the right, away from the window. He took a deep, audible breath, a few more labored breaths, and then some quiet, shallow ones before his chest stopped moving at 7:33 p.m. His hand and limbs never twitched, and he didn’t make any other sounds.
By 7:38 p.m., Rhines’ face and left hand appeared clammy and turned a bit blue, white and gray. A coroner walked in and used a stethoscope to listen for a heartbeat in multiple locations on his chest. He pronounced Rhines dead at 7:39 p.m. and the curtains were closed so Rhines could be further examined and taken away for an autopsy.
Kolpack said the execution was the quickest and quietest of the three he’s witnessed since Rodney Berget — executed last fall for murdering prison guard Ronald "R.J." Johnson during a failed escape attempt — made a groaning noise while other death row inmates loudly snored for several minutes.
Loved ones react
Also watching the execution were Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, Pennington County Sheriff Kevin Thom, Pennington County State's Attorney Mark Vargo — who helped prosecute the case — and Dennis Groff, the lead prosecutor who now works as a private attorney in Rapid City.
The Schaeffers were joined by their son Steve; Kathy Pike, Donnivan’s aunt; Sheila Pond Jackson, Donnivan’s former fiancé; and Bill and Joann Pond, Sheila’s parents.
During the news conference, Peggy held up two large, framed photographs of Donnivan: one of him posing with his brother Steve as a young boy and one of him smiling for a graduation picture when he was older.
She said the day was “marked with sadness and grief, but also relief and justice,” and asked people to talk about and remember her son, “the boy with a goofy, contagious laugh” that would help anyone in need.
Peggy said her son was a roller hockey and archery champion who drove an old, red pickup and loved his friends, family and fiancé.
She also asked people to do something kind for someone else in honor of Donnivan.
“He has given us so much strength and good and if each of us can just live a little bit of that strength and goodness instead of being on the other end of that stick, this would be a much better world,” Peggy said.
Jackson’s eyes welled up as she spoke with the Journal about her former fiancé.
“He’s always going to be part” of my life, she said. “It’s something that you don’t get over. You can try to forget, but it doesn’t go away.”
She said Donnivan would have supported Rhines’ death sentence because the night before he was murdered, he told her that he supports the concept of an “eye for an eye.”
Jackson said she normally went with Donnivan to pick up supplies at night from the store, but he told her to stay home that night due to the bad weather.
“He promised to call when he got there and when he left to head out to the Box Elder store, and I never got those calls,” she said.
Jackson said that Rhines’ death was more humane and peaceful than the times she’s seen her pets euthanized.
Speaking after the news conference, the Schaeffers said they’ve tried to live positive lives and put their faith in God and each other.
“Anger and hate, that wouldn't have got us anywhere" Peggy said while wearing a cross around her neck.