Justices give Georgia death row inmate new round of appeals

Texas Death Row Inmates Lose Appeals

The Supreme Court gave a death-row inmate a potentially life-saving reprieve on Monday because of racist comments made by one of his jurors.

In a 6-3 decision, the high court sent Keith Tharpe's case back to the federal appeals court in Atlanta with instructions to take a closer look to see whether the juror voted to give Tharpe the death sentence because the defendant was black. In that statement, Gattie, now deceased, used racial slurs and said, "I have wondered if black people even have souls".

"On the unusual facts of this case, the Court of Appeals' review should not have rested on the ground that it was indisputable among reasonable jurists that Gattie's service on the jury did not prejudice Tharpe", read the Supreme Court's unsigned ruling Monday.

"Gattie's remarkable affidavit-which he never retracted-presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe's race affected Gattie's vote for a death verdict", the majority wrote. "The (U.S. Court of Appeals for the) Eleventh Circuit erred when it concluded otherwise". Now the court is giving Tharpe - convicted of killing Jacquelin Freeman, his sister-in-law, 27 years ago - another chance to have a court hear his claims of racial bias on his sentencing.

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Tharpe was tried, convicted and sentenced to death about three months later. Gattie signed an affidavit, though he later testified that he voted to sentence Tharpe to death because of the evidence against him.

Tharpe's execution by lethal injection was halted in September on day it was to be carried out.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the court's only African-American member, objected and was joined by Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch. Armed with a shotgun, he ordered them out of their vehicle and fatally shot Freeman during an argument over whether his estranged wife would go with him, his lawyers have said. Nearly nothing short of an admission that they hate black people and knew that this defendant was innocent but they railroaded them anyway is good enough to meet that standard. The justice noted that Gattie, in a second affidavit obtained by state attorneys, recanted his first one and said he didn't vote for the death penalty because Tharpe was black.

In the 13-page dissenting opinion, Thomas accused his fellow justices of "bending the rules" to show "concern for racial justice" and said it further delayed justice for Freeman, "the black woman who was brutally murdered by Tharpe 27 years ago". Reportedly, while Tharpe's wife and sister were in a auto, Tharpe blocked them on the road in the truck he was driving.

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Gattie also maintained he'd been drinking when he signed his first affidavit, Thomas said.

"The court must be disturbed by the racist rhetoric in that affidavit, and must want to do something about it", Justice Thomas wrote.

Georgia courts would not consider any evidence of potential racial bias and a U.S. District Court also refused to consider that evidence.

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