ACLU And Company Want An Appeal For Gay Man Convicted To Death By A Homophobic Jury

Six civil rights organizations have gotten in the ring to fight for a death row inmate who was found guilty by a homophobic jury.

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 have filed an amici brief advising the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the appeal of Charles Rhines.

In June, we shared with you the story of Charles Rhines. He was arrested after being caught in a deadly burglary of a doughnut shop in Rapid City, South Dakota in 1992.

While Rhines was convicted in 1993 for the murder and sentenced to death, evidence later arose that the jury that convicted him was biased. This evidence is three official statements from jurors who served during Rhines’s case.

As the Miami Herald wrote:

“One juror was quoted as saying that putting a gay man in prison would be ‘sending him where he wants to go.’ Another quoted a fellow juror as saying Rhines ‘shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.’ A third reported that, ‘There was a lot of disgust’ in the jury room. ‘This is a farming community.’”

While Rhines’s crime is very serious, his conviction to death because of a homophobic jury, who opted for him to not go to prison, doesn’t sit well with some. That includes the six organizations who have joined together to fight for him.

“New evidence confirms that some of the jurors who voted to impose the death penalty on Mr. Rhines did so because they thought the alternative – a life sentence in a men’s prison – was something he would enjoy as a gay man,” they shared in the brief. “Three jurors have made statements indicating that anti-gay prejudices played a significant role in the jury’s decision-making.”

 “As Chief Justice Roberts has explained, the core premise of our criminal justice system is that ‘[o]ur law punishes people for what they do, not who they are.’ (Buck v. Davis) Bias based on a characteristic that cannot be changed, such as race or sexual orientation, goes against this foundational principle. Allowing bias to play any role in sentencing is especially alarming when the bias may have made the difference between life and death.”

 Now, Rhines and his defense team have filed an Application for certificate of Appealabilty with the before mentioned U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The application can be viewed here and its exhibits can be seen here.

Will the support of these six major LGBTQ rights organizations give Rhines the yes that he needs or will his execution be upheld? We’ll see in due time.

Lawyer David Buckel Will Be Remembered For His Work for the LGBTQ Community

David Buckel, a prominent LGBTQ rights lawyer was found dead on Saturday in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. The lawyer who was 60 years old, left a suicide note in a shopping cart nearby before setting himself on fire and burning to death. He also emailed the message to several media outlets including The New York Times.

In the letter, Buckel expressed how his death was a protest on the world’s use of fossil fuels and its effect on the environment.

Parts of the letter say:

My name is David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide. I apologize to you for the mess.

Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather.

Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.

A life of privilege requires actions to balance the harm caused, and the greater the privilege, the greater the responsibility.

For if one does not leave behind a world better for having lived in it, all that remains are selfish ends, sometimes wrapped in family or nation.

My early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves. A lifetime of service may best be preserved by giving a life.

Buckel was a key attorney in the Brandon v. County of Richardson case where he argued for Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was murdered in Falls City, Nebraska. The case found a Nebraska county sheriff responsible for failing to protect Teena. Brandon Teena earned Hilary Swank an Oscar in the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry.

Buckel’s work via Lambda Legal also included great strides in the same-sex marriage journey.

When he left Lambda Legal, he became very involved with environmental causes, which is demonstrated in his passionate, life-ending protest against fossil fuels.

Lambda Legal shared a statement on their website about Buckel’s death.

Attorney Susan Sommer, who worked closely with Buckel, shared with The New York Times:

He deserves tremendous thanks for recognizing this was in many ways at the heart of what it meant to be gay for many Americans and making it a priority. I learned so much from him about the emotional center of what it means for a gay person not to be able to have all the protections for the person they love and that it’s worth fighting for.

h/t: The New York Times, Lambda Legal