Western South Dakota's Only Ranch Station

South Dakota asks court to let execution proceed

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The state of South Dakota asked a judge Monday to reject an inmate’s objection to the lethal drug scheduled for use in his execution.

Charles Russell Rhines is scheduled to die next week for the 1992 fatal stabbing of a 22-year-old doughnut shop worker during a robbery. Rhines moved last week to block the execution by arguing that pentobarbital, commonly used to euthanize animals, doesn’t act quickly enough. His lawyers argue that by using the drug, the state would be violating Rhines’ right to choose his manner of execution and his right to due process.

The state countered that Rhines’ argument is based on pentobarbital’s performance in a low-dosage setting, and that it works quickly enough when given in high doses. The drug has been used in recent executions in Georgia, Missouri and Texas.

The state also argued that Rhines’ objection could have been brought long ago. A South Dakota circuit court judge is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday.

Pentobarbital was used last year when South Dakota executed Rodney Berget, who killed a prison guard during a 2011 escape attempt. Berget was pronounced dead 12 minutes after the lethal injection began, and a transcript released afterward said Berget asked after the injection was administered: “Is it supposed to feel like that?” That prompted a national group that studies capital punishment to call on the state to release more details about the drug used.

Rhines was sentenced to death for the 1992 killing of Donnivan Schaeffer, who was stabbed in the skull, stomach and back while Rhines was burglarizing the Rapid City doughnut shop where Schaeffer worked.

Rhines lost two other appeals to delay his execution last week. In those appeals, he argued that he should be able to meet with mental health experts to prepare a clemency application and that the state’s execution policies don’t follow the state’s rule-making requirement. Rhines’ attorney did not return a request for comment.

An exact date for Rhines’ execution hasn’t been announced.

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Abigail Tweedy

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