Court denies death penalty appeal of gay prisoner


ST. LOUIS — A divided three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hear the appeal of Charles Rhines, a gay man on death row in South Dakota, on Friday. The appeal argued that Rhines should be allowed to present new evidence showing that antigay bias may have motivated the jury to sentence him to death.

Six organizations, ncluding the American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union of South Dakota, Lambda Legal, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and National LGBT Bar Association, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in August following the discovery of comments from jurors suggesting that sentencing Rhines to life in prison with other men would be “sending him where he wants to go,” according to a press release from the orgnizations.

The brief provided information about the long and painful history of discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in the United States and asked the court to issues a certificate of appealability to Rhines to allow him to present evidence of juror bias.

“Our judicial system has safeguards to prevent bias based on sexual orientation,” said Ria Tabacco Mar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, in the press release. “Those safeguards failed for Mr. Rhines. We appreciate that Judge Kelly voted to consider Mr. Rhines’s  petition for the opportunity to show whether his death sentence was the result of anti-gay bias.”

“Mr. Rhines’s case represents one of the most extreme forms anti-LGBT bias can take,” said Ethan Rice, Lambda Legal Fair Courts Project attorney. “Evidence suggests that he has been on death row for the past 25 years because he is a gay man. We are deeply disappointed that the court has chosen not to allow for review of this case when it is clear that Mr. Rhines may have been denied the constitutional right to a fair trial because the jury deliberations included bias.”

More information on the case and the amicus brief is available here:

The amicus brief filed by the six organizations on August 2, 2018 can be found here: