A US man convicted of murder has been handed a death sentence, after members of the jury said that as a gay man he would enjoy a men’s prison.
An opinion piece in the New York Times by lawyer and LGBTI advocate Ría Tabacco Mar has drawn attention to the case of Charles Rhines, who was facing either the death sentence or life imprisonment.
The court was shown evidence that the jury frequently discussed Rhines’s sexuality during its deliberations, with “a lot of disgust” expressed.
Some jurors “thought that 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” if Rhines did not receive the death penalty.
Rhines’s appeal to the Supreme Court claiming bias in his sentencing was rejected despite the evidence, with no explanation given.
“[The court’s] silence sent a deeply troubling message about the value placed on the lives of LGBT people,” wrote Tabacco Mar.
She noted that some jurors had asked questions such as whether Rhines would mix with the general prison population, and if he would have a cellmate.
“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,” she wrote.
Tabacco Mar compared the case to another in which a jury was found to have been racially biased in its conviction.
“The same rule should apply when anti-LGBT prejudice taints juror decision-making,” she wrote.
“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.”
Tabacco Mar said that similar cases of homophobia affecting legal decisions were inevitable in the future, and called on the Supreme Court to do better.
“[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,” she wrote.
“However, that will probably come too late for Mr Rhines.”