Last words of those executed should not be public

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Charles Russell Rhines was executed Nov. 4 in Sioux Falls for the 1992 murder of Donnivan Schaeffer.

The 63-year-old was the 20th person executed by the state of South Dakota, and the fifth since 2007. Jack McCall was the first person on record to be executed in Dakota Territory on March 1, 1877, for the murder of Wild Bill Hickok.

Whether you find justice in or disagree with capital punishment, one thing needs to change: executions should not include last statements made in public.

Those being executed should say their final words in private to friends and/or family, clergy or to invited guests who want to listen.

This could be done in the days or hours leading up to the execution. Let the person who is being executed eat what they want and say what they want before the execution.

Those being executed can’t take weapons to their execution, so why allow a public statement? Words certainly can be used as weapons in an attempt to inflict harm. Before he was executed, Rhines was asked if he had anything to say. He spoke specifically to the parents of his victim Donnivan Schaeffer, Ed and Peggy.

“Yes, I do,” Rhines said, according to media witnesses. “Ed and Peggy Schaeffer, I forgive you for your anger and hatred toward me. I pray to God that he forgives you for your anger and hatred toward me. Thanks to my team. I love you all, goodbye. Let’s go. That’s all I have to say. Goodbye.”

We can’t know what Rhines intended or what was in his heart as he spoke those words. Each of you can decide for yourselves.

Pennington County State’s Attorney Mark Vargo said he has stood next to Donnivan’s family for 26 years as the case proceeded.

“All that time, they have borne this tragedy and this loss with a grace that is simply inspiring,” Vargo said.

Peggy Schaeffer said she let go of her anger a long time ago.

“Anger and hate couldn’t have got us anywhere,” she said. “I gave it up to God. It takes a load off ... if I would start hating, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be who I am.”

Rhines ended up on death row after the events at a doughnut shop in Rapid City on March 8, 1992. It was a shop where both Rhines and Donnivan Schaeffer had worked.

A few weeks after getting fired from the doughnut shop, Rhines burglarized the business. Schaeffer was delivering supplies to the shop when he walked in on Rhines, who then stabbed the 22-year-old to death.

Rhines was sentenced to death in 1993.

In the past, inmates about to be executed have attempted to use humor. Whatever their intentions, we don’t believe the families of victims need to hear what an inmate has to say.

If a condemned person wants to say something to the families of their victim or victims, and those families want to hear it, let it be done in private.

Outside the state penitentiary in Sioux Falls Nov. 4, both protesters and supporters of the death penalty gathered.

Whatever side you are on, we hope that you would agree that public statements from the condemned at such events are unnecessary.