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Man convicted of murder handed death sentence after jury say he'd enjoy prison because he is gay

Charles Rhines will be sentenced to death following the jury's decision

2018-06-20

An American man convicted of murder has been handed a death sentence after the jury decided he would enjoy a men’s prison because he is gay.

The Supreme Court revealed it would not stop South Dakota from executing Charles Rhines – who was facing either the death sentence or prison – despite concerns that his sentence was influenced by his sexuality.

The court was shown evidence that the jury discussed his sexuality on a regular basis during its deliberations with some saying he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.

One reportedly said: “If he’s gay, we’d be sending him where he wants to go.”

Rhines appealed to the Supreme Court claiming bias in his sentencing but it was rejected with no explanation given.

Lawyer and LGBT+ advocate Ria Tobacco Mar wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times: “[The court’s] silence sent a deeply troubling message about the value placed on the lives of LGBT people.”

She noted that some of the jurors asked whether Rhines would mix with the general prison population and if he would have a cellmate.

She continued: “In other words, some members of the jury thought life in prison without parole would be fun for Mr Rhines.

“So they decided to sentence him to death.”

Tabacco Mar went on to compare the sentence to another case where the jury was racially biased in their decision.

“The same rule should apply when anti-LGBT prejudice taints jurors decision-making,” she added.

“To be sure, the history of racism in America is unique and demands unique safeguards. But that does not make anti-LGBT discrimination any less objectionable, particularly when it may have made the difference between life and death.

“[The court] should take the next opportunity to correct this mistake and recognise that prejudice against people who are LGBT should play no role in America’s criminal justice system.

“However, that will probably come too late for Mr Rhines.”