SIOUX FALLS, SD – Donnivan Schaeffer was delivering supplies to the South Dakota doughnut shop where he worked when a former co-worker who was in the middle of burglarizing the place ambushed the 22-year-old, stabbing him in the stomach. Bleeding from his wound, Schaeffer begged to be taken to a hospital, vowing to keep silent about the crime; instead, he was forced into a storeroom, tied up and stabbed to death.
More than 22 years later, Charles Rhines, 63, is set to be executed for the murder of Schaeffer at Dig 'Em Donuts. The crime, which prosecutors outlined at a recent hearing, shook residents of Rapid City, gave the lead investigator nightmares and left a mother mourning a son's life cut short.
Barring a last-minute stay from appellate courts, the execution will be carried out at 1:30 p.m. Monday. Rhines lost his latest bid to halt it when a judge Thursday rejected his challenge to the execution drug, pentobarbital, on the grounds that it wouldn't act fast enough. He also lost an earlier attempt to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear his argument that he was sentenced to death because he is gay; the state wrote that jurors chose the death sentence partly because of Rhines' "chilling laughter" as he described Schaeffer's death spasms.
"I watched the jury as they listened to the confession of Charles Rhines on audiotape and their reaction to his confession was appropriate. Any human being would be repulsed by the things he said and the way he said them," Steve Allender, the lead investigator, told KELO.
Allender, who took the confession, said Rhines' arrogant demeanor haunted him.
"It's the only case I ever investigated, or the only case I had ever seen as a police officer for 30 years, that I ever had a nightmare about. It was just creepy and weird," said Allender, who is now Rapid City mayor.
The crime happened on March 8, 1992, three weeks after Rhines, then 35, was fired from his job at Dig 'Em Donuts. Schaeffer, of Black Hawk, was stabbed a total of three times. Co-workers found him a few hours later. The investigation would show that Rhines drove through the countryside to scatter the murder weapon and his clothing.
Rhines attended Schaeffer's funeral, then moved to Seattle a few days later. Authorities thought the move was odd because Rhines had vowed to never return to Washington state, where he had spent time in prison. Allender said authorities initially interviewed Rhines and felt something was off, but Rhines wasn't arrested until four months later — after Rhines told his former roommate about the killing.
Rhines appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing his sentence was unconstitutional because jurors were homophobic and sentenced him to death because they thought he'd enjoy life in prison with other men. The Supreme Court declined to hear his case.
Jurors "uniformly reported," that Rhines' "chilling laughter during his confession while comparing young Donnivan Schaeffer's death spasms to a decapitated chicken running around a barnyard, not his sexual orientation, was what drove them to impose a death sentence," the South Dakota Attorney General's Office wrote to the court in March 2019.
The letter also states that the jury imposed the death sentence because Rhines "is a stone-cold killer, devoid of any remorse for his crime or empathy for the rights and dignity of other people."
Rhines wrote to the Argus Leader in May 2013, saying that when he saw a grieving mother on the news in an unrelated case, he realized what he had done to Schaeffer's mother.
"Just at the cusp of her beloved child becoming an independent person, a responsible adult with a family and friends surrounding him and his mother waiting expectantly for grandchildren to spoil, having all that snatched away for almost no reason at all and the hole it has had to have left in her heart," he wrote. "Prosecutors talk of closure, but that wound will never close, no matter how long it is there."
Peggy Schaeffer, Donnivan's mother, didn't believe he was remorseful.
"If he were sorry, he could have said it a long time ago," Schaeffer told the Argus Leader in 2014. "Now, 20 years later, he's sorry? Uh-uh."
Schaeffer's family declined to speak with The Associated Press in advance of Rhines' execution. In June, when a judge scheduled the execution, Peggy Schaeffer told reporters, "This step was one big one for justice for Donnivan. It's just time."
Peggy said she feels her son beside her all the time, and thinks about what he would have accomplished in life, the Rapid City Journal reported.
"I missed (having) a daughter-in-law, I missed grandchildren, my son misses his brother, my grandchildren miss an uncle and an aunt," she said. She added that the family lights a candle and places a rose on the table during holidays in her son's memory.
"And he is there, we know it," she said.