Juror's Racist Comments May Save Death-Row Inmate

Elias Hubbard
January 8, 2018

Last February, the high court suspended the execution of a Texan who had been cast during his trial as being potentially more unsafe because he was black.

The court today sent the death-penalty case against Keith Tharpe back to a federal appeals court.

Justice Clarence Thomas called the court's unsigned opinion "ceremonial handwringing" in a dissent that predicted Tharpe ultimately would lose his appeal.

Gattie's statements don't change the facts of Tharpe's guilt, his lawyers argue, but they show that he did not get a "fair and impartial" jury to consider his sentence.

"The opinions in the affidavit are certainly odious".

It also noted Mr. Gattie later issued a second affidavit, and said his previous statements were out of context and carried out after he had been drinking. Black folks and 2. Gattie freely used racial slurs and said his study of the Bible had led him to question "if black people even have souls", according to court filings. "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 opinion said.

The majority in Tharpe v. Sellers acknowledges that Tharpe faces a "high bar" for showing that jurists of reason could find that that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion. It is at least debatable, and a federal appeals court erred by saying it's not, the court said.

The majority left room for the possibility that Thomas could be right.

"It may be that at the end of the day, Tharpe should not receive a COA".

The ruling means the case will now return to lower courts and gives Tharpe a chance to avoid execution in the 1990 murder.

"The court must be disturbed by the racial rhetoric", in the case "and must want to do something about it", Thomas wrote.

In the Supreme Court's per curiam decision Monday, the justices refer to "a sworn affidavit, signed by Gattie" that described his views. He added that the decision "callously delays justice for Jaquelin Freeman, the black woman who was brutally murdered by Tharpe 27 years ago". "But their odiousness does not excuse us from doing our job correctly, or allow us to pretend that the lower courts have not done theirs", Thomas wrote in the dissent.

Tharpe was represented by the executive director of the Georgia Resource Center, Brian Kammer.

The justices did not add any new cases to their merits docket, but they did issue a summary ruling in the case of a Georgia death-row inmate and called for the views of the US solicitor general in three cases.

WASHINGTON | The Supreme Court is giving a Georgia death row inmate whose execution was called off previous year another chance to raise claims of racial bias on his jury.

Sabrina Graham of the office of Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr represented the state.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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