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Noem resists ACLU's clemency plea for death row inmate who claims anti-gay prejudice

PIERRE, S.D. — Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has indicated that she will not stop the execution of a South Dakota inmate who alleges he was sentenced to death because of jurors' anti-gay prejudice.

The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday, May 20, wrote a letter to Noem asking her to grant clemency to Charles Rhines, who was sentenced to death in 1993 for burglarizing a Rapid City doughnut shop and fatally stabbing an employee.

The ACLU says evidence has emerged since Rhines' sentencing that "anti-gay prejudices played a significant role in the jury's decision-making." Rhines is a homosexual man.

In a written statement Wednesday, Noem said that the state's Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Rhines' application for clemency on Dec. 12, 2018 — a decision she agrees with.

Rhines, backed by the ACLU and five other civil liberties and advocacy organizations, has appealed his sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, but the U.S. Supreme Court in April 2019 denied to take up the case.

On May 14, the state filed its intent to obtain a warrant for Rhines' execution. Absent a stay, South Dakota is on course to execute Rhines in early November.

If completed, Rhines' execution is expected to be the first in the state since Rodney Berget received a lethal injection in October 2018. South Dakota has executed four inmates since it reinstated the death penalty in 1979.