Charles Rhines: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Charles Rhines

South Dakota Department of Corrections Charles Rhines mugshots

Charles Rhines, 63, was a criminal who was sentenced to death for the 1992 murder of 22-year-old Donnivan Schaeffer. He was executed by lethal injection on Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his appeal.

Rhines killed Donnivan Schaeffer during a robbery attempt at Dig ‘Em Donuts in Rapid City, South Dakota. He snuck up on Schaeffer and stabbed him in the back and stomach. As he bled, Schaeffer pleaded for his life and was begging for an ambulance, telling Rhines that he wouldn’t tell anybody about the crime. Rhines tied him up in a storeroom and plunged the knife into the base of Schaeffer’s skull, killing him.

There’s no question that Rhines is guilty of the crime, he confessed to police, but his case has been the cause of much scrutiny after evidence emerged that the juror’s homophobia may have played a role in their decision.

During the sentencing, jurors worried that Rhines, who is a gay man, might enjoy prison because it would be a sexual playground for him. Jurors asked the judge in the case if Rhines would be housed in general population, if he might ever marry or have conjugal visits, or if he would have a cellmate. What’s more, several jurors later issued sworn declarations admitting that homophobia influenced their deliberations.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that jury deliberations can be impeached if it can be proven they were tainted by racial bias. Rhines’ lawyers took his case to the Supreme Court arguing that if racism is enough to taint a jury’s bias, so is homophobia.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his appeal last week as well as his arguments that he was sentenced to die by a jury with an anti-gay bias and that he wasn’t given access to experts who could have examined him for cognitive and psychiatric impairments.

“It is very sad and profoundly unjust that the State of South Dakota today executed Charles Rhines, a gay man, without any court ever hearing the evidence of gay bias that infected the jury’s decision to sentence him to death,” Rhines’ lawyer Shawn Nolan said.

Right before his execution, Rhines used his last words to forgive Schaeffer’s parents instead of apologizing for his crimes. “Ed and Peggy Schaeffer, I forgive you for your anger and hatred toward me,” Rhines said, right before he thanked his defense team. “I pray to God that he forgives you for your anger and hatred toward me. Thanks to my team. I love you all, goodbye. Let’s go. That’s all I have to say. Goodbye.”

Schaeffer’s parents were present for the execution but made it clear they were there to remember Donnivan rather than talk about Rhines. Patty Schaeffer appeared before reporters holding a photo of her two sons, including Donnivan, as children and then displayed a graduation photo of him.

“We were so blessed to have this young man in our family and in our life,” Donnivan’s Mom Patty Schaffer said. “Today is the day that we talk about Donnivan, the guy who loved his family, his fiancé, and his friends.”

Here’s what you need to know:


1. The Jury Said That Rhines “Shouldn’t Be Able to Spend Life with Men in Prison”

According to a court filing on Rhines’ behalf, one juror, Harry Keeney, told Rhines’ legal team: “We also knew that he was a homosexual and thought that he shouldn’t be able to spend life with men in prison.”

Another recalled a fellow juror’s statement that “if he’s gay, we’d be sending him where he wants to go if we voted for” life imprisonment. A third juror recalled “lots of discussion of homosexuality. There was a lot of disgust.”

“If he’s gay, we’d be sending him where he wants to go,” Frances Cersosimo who served on the jury recalled. She would not identify the juror who made the comment. At one point, a juror referred to Mr. Rhines as “that SOB queer”.

The jury wrote a letter to the judge with a number of questions that involved Rhines’ sexuality including “Will Mr. Rhines be allowed to mix with the general inmate population?” and “Will Mr. Rhines be allowed to marry or have conjugal visits?”

The judge didn’t answer the questions and referred the jury to his previous instructions. Rhines’ lawyers have argued that this is evidence of bias.


2. At the Time of the Murder, Rhines Was Sexually Involved with a 17-Year-Old Boy

Donnivan Schaffer

A photo of Charles Rhines’ victim, Donnivan Schaffer

In the U.S. Supreme Court denial of Rhines’ appeal, they reveal that Rhines was “not a sympathetic figure”. Rhines wrote letters to a previous sexual partner (known as Hernandez) where he talked about being involved with a 17-year-old and said he was “fixated on teenage males who he could “break in gradual” to his violent, sadomasochistic sexual practices.”

In his letters to his previous partner, he also described himself as a “sexual predator” whose inner animal wanted to “face f***” and “ass f***” and “grease someone’s hole and f*** at all times”.

Rhines describes his “inner animal” and how he “doesn’t want it to be penned up or kept in at all.” In Hernandez’s view, Rhines’ sexual partners were not even people to him.


3. Charles Rhines Outfitted His Home in Seattle with A “Sex Dungeon”

Charles Rhines in Prison

Charles Rhines photographed in Prison

According to Rhines’ autobiography, he confessed to having a “dungeon” in his house in Seattle. Rhines wrote that he put plywood over the windows and painted the entire room flat black in order to satisfy his sexual desires.

Rhines describes that his “animal self” is lurking right below the surface and how “urbane/civilized” people bury their animal self “deep inside” so that it “never gets out”. He says that his “animal self” must get out once in a while and that “if he is suppressed too long, he takes over.”

Rhines goes on to say he is “supremely dominant” during sex and is happiest when he is “inflicting pain and suffering as he wishes” on his consenting partners. “Slapping a guy around/spanking are warm-ups” to the “whipping and rape scenes,” he wrote.


4. He Laughed While Confessing the Murder

Charles Rhines

Charles Rhines in court for the 1992 murder of Donnivan Schaeffer

Steve Allender was a Rapid City police detective at the time of the killing and is now the city’s mayor. He worked on the case and said Rhines’ jury sentenced him to death has a lot to do with the “chilling laughter” as he described Schaeffer’s death spasms.

“I watched the jury as they listened to the confession of Charles Rhines on audiotape and their reaction to his confession was appropriate. Any human being would be repulsed by the things he said and the way he said them,” Allender told CBS News.

Rhines laughed as he described Schaeffer dying and compared his death spasms to a decapitated chicken running around a barnyard.


5. He Requested Fried Chicken for His Last Meal

Donnivan Schaeffer Parents

Donnivan Schaeffer’s parents holding a photo of their late son.

According to the The Daily Mirror, for his last meal, Rhines asked for fried chicken as his main course. His full request included:

  • Fried chicken
  • Cantaloupe or musk melon
  • Lefse
  • Yogurt (strawberry and cherry)
  • Butter
  • Black licorice
  • Cookies and cream ice cream
  • Root beer
  • Coffee with cream and sugar
  • Rhines was executed at 7:30 PM on Monday night.


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