SCOTUS Sides With Inmate Over Juror's Use of N-Word

The Supreme Court said the juror's statement

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

In a 6-3 ruling on Monday, the highest U.S. court decided that Keith Tharpe, who is black, deserves another chance to appeal his 1990 murder conviction.

The jury member said under oath: "After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls". Tharpe is black, and the Supreme Court declared in a 6-3 opinion that juror Barney Gattie's views may have tainted his ability to deliver a fair verdict.

But, the court continued, the affidavit (which the court described as "remarkable") nonetheless "presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe's race affected" the juror's vote for the death penalty.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta probably will reach the same conclusion and deny Tharpe's appeal on other grounds, he wrote, referring to his colleagues' action as a "useless do-over".

On Sept. 25, 1990, Tharpe drove a pickup truck to intercept his estranged wife and her sister in law, Jaquelin Freeman, as they set out for their jobs in Macon.

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Freeman, the murder victim, came from a family of "nice black folks", Gattie said. But the state post-conviction court would not consider any evidence of potential racial bias, and a federal district court also declined to consider that evidence.

Tharpe petitioned to reopen his habeas petition last June, citing new Supreme Court opinions regarding grants for certificate of appealability claims based on extraordinary circumstances.

Thomas said the court was swayed by the "odious" remarks in Gattie's statement, but should have focused on procedural problems with Tharpe's case and the lower court's determination that Tharpe's death sentence did not depend upon racist considerations by the jury. Reportedly, while Tharpe's wife and sister were in a auto, Tharpe blocked them on the road in the truck he was driving. 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.

In dissent, Thomas said the lower courts had properly considered and disposed of Tharpe's claims.

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

"But the court's decision is no profile in moral courage", he added. But in March of previous 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. "The attention to racial discrimination is long overdue because it has always been a factor in many criminal cases and particularly in death penalty cases", he said.

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