U.S. Supreme Court Denies Appeals, South Dakota Executes Inmate

Nov 5, 2019

A sign protesting the death penalty and use of capital punishment posted outside the South Dakota State Penitentiary.
Credit John Nguyen

Death row inmate Charles Russell Rhines was executed by lethal injection at 7:39 Monday night.  There was a six hour delay waiting for the US Supreme Court to consider three appeals.   Once the appeals were denied it took 37 minutes from Rhines leaving his holding cell to being pronounced dead.  

 

Protesters gathered outside the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls - about 30 people prayed and sang hymns in the hour leading up to the scheduled 1:30 pm execution of Charles Russell Rhines. Dennis Davis is the director of South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, he says he spoke with Rhines this week. He says Rhines was nervous but has fought for his life as long as he can. Davis wonders what message this execution is sending.

 

 “It seems like they want to clean off, clean out death row, which is legal. So, killing is illegal in anywhere in the United States—most places in the world—unless it’s done by the state or the country and for some reason, they call that ‘death’ legal. That’s never made much sense to me. Why would we want to kill someone who has killed to say that killing is wrong and what does this say to our children? It’s teaching them something,” says Davis. 

 

Davis says while he accepts the execution, he wants to shift the culture away from the death penalty.  He says for a conservative state it’s more cost effective to sentence someone to life without parole. Rhines has appeared in court 16 times with appeals over the last 26 years. His final three appeals were before the US Supreme Court and delayed the scheduled execution for about six hours. The court denied the requests for a stay of execution. 

Protestors against the death penalty gather to pray while the U.S. Supreme Court hears last-minute appeals for the Charles Rhines case.
Credit John Nguyen

Inside the prison Charles Rhines wore an orange prison issued short sleeved t-shirt. He was lying on a table and his arms and legs were strapped down.  He was covered with a white sheet up to his chest. He wore his glasses. 

Jack Caudill is with KEVN in Rapid City and served as a media witness. He says Rhines’ speech was calm when asked if he had any last words. 

"He said yes I do. He said Ed and Peggy Schaeffer I forgive you for your anger and hatred you have towards me. I pray to God that he forgives you for your anger and hatred towards me. Thanks to my team, I love you all, goodbye, let’s go." says Caudill.

An IV was started in his right arm and left hand. 

Arielle Zionts is a reporter with the Rapid City Journal and also served as a media witness.

Media witnesses describe the execution of Charles Russell Rhines.
Credit SDPB

"It looks like he intentionally closed his eyes and did some normal blinking and then he started to frequently blink and then he said something that sounded like sis.  It definitely was a one syllable word that sounded like sis. At first, he was looking up because that’s where the mic was and then he turned his head to the right which was away from us and his arm was out to the left and we couldn’t see his face," says Zionts.  "He did a big deep audible breath, and there was some more labored breathing and then it got gentle and that was by 7:33 and so within a minute all of that breathing was done.  By 7:38, I would say he was already pretty pale, but I would say the color in his face became pretty clammy kind of greyish whitish blueish." 

Charles Rhines was pronounced dead at 7:39 pm.  Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg says justice was served. He did not want to talk about Charles Rhines.

"Today I would like to remember Donnivan Schaeffer, the victim who was brutally murdered by the killer who just met justice. Donnivan was an intelligent man set to graduate from western Dakota tech. Donnivan was an award winning archer, who loved hunting and fishing.  Donnivan was funny, kind and a hard worker," says Ravnsborg.

Ravnsborg says if Donnivan was alive he would be about to celebrate his 50th birthday.  Instead Donnivan Schaeffer is known as the 22 year old donut shop employee who surprised Charles Rhines during a burglary and was stabbed multiple times.

High school graduation photo of Donnivan Schaeffer
Credit SDPB

Donnivan’s mother says she forgave Charles Rhines a long time ago. She says that’s the only way she could move on after her son’s death. She says she’s angry about the crime but is not full of anger and hatred toward Rhines. She wants instead to honor her son. 

"The man who touched many lives without even knowing it. Today do something kind in honor because life is just too short, and this world needs more love and kindness.  Remember him today. Talk about Donnivan.  He is missed, he is loved, and he will never be forgotten," says Schaeffer.

Peggy and Ed Schaeffer believe justice was done and thanked law enforcement and state lawyers for working hard on behalf of their family. Donnivan’s fiancé Sheila Pond Jackson told reporters Donnivan believed in an “eye for an eye” and that justice was served for Donnivan.

Charles Rhines
Credit South Dakota Department of Corrections

No one spoke from Charles Rhines’ family. He was the fifth inmate to be executed since 2007. One inmate remains on South Dakota’s death row. Briley Piper has an appeal before the South Dakota Supreme Court.