Appeals have allowed Charles Russell Rhines to avoid execution for 19 years,
but a new state law could bring an end to those appeals, according to Attorney
General Marty Jackley. Beginning July 1, convicted criminals will have only one
opportunity to use a writ of habeas corpus, which is typically used to claim
that poor representation by court appointed attorneys was responsible for their
convictions. When a court grants the writ, the case is then subject to an often
lengthy legal review.
And instead of having five years to file the writ, it now must be filed within
two years after the direct appeals of a conviction and sentence are completed.
The South Dakota Defense Attorney’s Association was involved in crafting the
language of the new legislation. Rapid City defense attorney Randal Connelly
believes the law is too restrictive.
“If the court deems that it is in the interest of justice, there should be a
provision that allows for a subsequent appeal to be heard,” Connelly said.
Federal law limits convicts to one federal habeas appeal, but until now, South
Dakota had no restrictions on such appeals, Jackley said.
“If you receive a life sentence, you have no incentive but to sit there and
file additional habeas proceedings,” he said.
Since Rhines was sentenced to death in 1993 for the murder of Donnivan
Schaeffer at a Rapid City doughnut shop, he has filed two writs of habeas
corpus in 7th Circuit Court and one federal habeas appeal.
Those appeals have taken a toll on his victim’s parents, Ed and Peggy
“Some days you can’t just physically function due to emotions and fatigue,”
Peggy Schaeffer told lawmakers last month.
Rhines shares death row at the state penitentiary with Donald Moeller, Briley
Piper, Rodney Berget and Eric Robert.
Moeller was sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of 9-year-old Becky
O’Connell of Sioux Falls. His appeals are still active.
Briley Piper was sentenced to death last summer for the 2000 murder of Chester
Allan Poage. He is in the early stages of appealing his sentence. Jackley
estimates that Piper will exhaust the appeal process in five to 10 years, due
in part to recent change in state law, assuming nothing changes on the federal
Berget and Robert, who killed prison guard Ronald Johnson in 2011, have both
requested the death penalty. They have said they will not appeal their
sentences beyond the mandatory Supreme Court review.
For almost a decade, the Schaeffers and O’Connell’s family were the only
victims caught in the seemingly endless cycle of appeals delaying executions.
“When you look at Moeller and Rhines, that isn’t fair to victims,” Jackley
“The different levels of appeals and how many times and reasons they can find
to move up and down the ladder is amazing,” Peggy Schaeffer said. “It makes it
seem like a rubber ball that just keeps bouncing from area to area with the
ball ending nowhere.”
Rhines legal challenges span nearly 2 decades
Chronology of Charles Russell Rhines’ legal challenges:
Conviction and sentenced Jan. 29, 1993; appeals to South Dakota Supreme Court
May 1996, appeal denied in June 1996; U.S. Supreme Court denied in December
First State Habeas
Filed in 7th Circuit Court in December 1996; Court’s denial affirmed by state
Supreme Court in February 2000
Filed in U.S. District Court in February 2000; U.S. District Court grants stay
in July 2002, while new habeas request is heard in 7th Circuit Court. File
Second State Habeas
Filed in 7th Circuit Court in August 2006 to address unexhausted issues
Appeal of Federal Habeas
8th Circuit Court of Appeals reverses stay October 2003; U.S. Supreme Court
reverses Court of Appeals March 2005; U.S. District Court enters stay December
Second State Habeas resumes
Filed in 7th Circuit Court in March 2006; Attorney general files motion for
summary judgment in March 2012.
Attorney fees for Charles Russell Rhines’ behalf paid by Pennington County to
date total $146,495.
(source: Rapid City Journal)