The Supreme Court is giving a man on death row a second chance after it was revealed a juror's racist commentary may have played a part in his conviction and sentencing.
Tharpe argued that attitude affected the Georgia jury's death sentence decision for his convictions of kidnapping and raping his estranged wife and murdering her sister almost three decades ago. It's all because his lawyers obtained a signed affidavit years after the case from one of his jurors in which the man complains about "n--" and adds that after "studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls".
"Gattie's remarkable affidavit ... presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe's race affected Gattie's vote for a death verdict", the Supreme Court said Monday. "The (U.S. Court of Appeals for the) Eleventh Circuit erred when it concluded otherwise".
Keith Tharpe was convicted of the 1990 murder of his sister-in-law, Jacquelyn Freeman, who had been accompanying his estranged wife.
Previously, a state post-conviction court rejected Tharpe's petition, finding that he could not prove juror misconduct because Georgia law doesn't allow parties to impeach jury verdicts with post-trial testimony, and he did not raise the issue on direct appeal.
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Study after study shows that juries are far more likely to convict a black person for murder and far more likely to give them the death penalty, but the Supreme Court has done nearly nothing to help fix that.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito and Neil M. Gorsuch dissented, saying the court's opinion will not only delay the execution, but it will delay justice for the victim's family. Tharpe blocked their auto, dragged Freeman out and shot her three times with a shotgun. Reportedly, while Tharpe's wife and sister were in a vehicle, Tharpe blocked them on the road in the truck he was driving. Thomas writes that during a state court deposition, Gattie claimed that while he did sign the affidavit, he did not swear to it. Gattie also testified that on the day he signed the document, he'd had "m$3 aybe a 12 pack, [and] a few drinks of whiskey over the period of the day".
"The court must be disturbed by the racist rhetoric in that affidavit, and must want to do something about it", Justice Thomas wrote. "But the court's decision is no profile in courage".
But Thomas said the court was letting Gattie's "odious opinions" trump the right approach to the law. But in March of past year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right to a fair trial supersedes such laws when racial animus influenced the verdict or sentence.