November 4, 2019 / 4:21 PM / 11 days ago

South Dakota sets rare execution for murderer of doughnut shop worker

Nov 4 (Reuters) - South Dakota has scheduled a rare execution on Monday for a man convicted of the 1992 stabbing death of a former co-worker at a doughnut shop, a sentence that rights advocates said was tainted by jurors who asked potentially homophobic questions.

Charles Rhines, 63, who is gay, was set to be put to death at 1:30 p.m. CDT (1930 GMT) by lethal injection at South Dakota’s execution chamber in Sioux Falls.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionally of the death penalty in 1976, South Dakota has carried out only four executions, including one last year. Rhines is one of only three inmates on the state’s death row.

Jurors found Rhines, a high school dropout who had worked a series of odd jobs, guilty of murdering Donnivan Schaeffer, 22, an employee at Dig ‘Em Donuts in Rapid City, where Rhines had also worked.

On March 8, 1992, less than a month after Rhines left the doughnut shop, he broke into the store, but was interrupted by Schaeffer.

Schaeffer’s body was found with his hands bound and stab wounds in his abdomen, upper back and back of the neck, according to court documents. About $3,300 in cash and checks were missing, they said.

A jury convicted Rhines of the crimes in January 1993 and sentenced him to death four days later.

Several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and gay-rights advocacy group Lambda Legal, unsuccessfully urged a U.S. appeals court in an amicus brief last year to allow Rhines to argue that bias based on his sexual orientation motivated the jury to sentence him to death.

During their deliberations, some jurors expressed anti-gay sentiments, with one saying that Rhines “shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison,” the groups said.

While they deliberated his fate, the jury sent the trial judge a note asking several questions about a possible life sentence, including whether Rhines would be allowed to mix with fellow male inmates, have a cell mate and have conjugal visits, the court noted in its August 2018 opinion. (Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

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