People Scheduled to be Murdered by Georgia
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that Keith Tharpe’s claims were barred on procedural grounds. The panel also said a 2017 opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court that allows courts to consider evidence of racial animus by jurors could not be applied retroactively to Tharpe’s case, which was tried 27 years ago.
For the second time in three years, Georgia is prepared to execute an intellectually disabled African-American man, despite evidence that the death verdict in his case may have been tainted by a white juror's profound racial bias. Lawyers for Keith Leroy Tharpe, whose IQ has been measured in the 60s and whom Georgia plans to murder said the courts should reconsider his case in light of the racial slurs a white juror made about him.
Lawyers had argued that new U.S. Supreme Court decisions clearly prohibit death sentences based on race and permit defendants to inquire into racist statements by jurors. While preparing his appeal, Tharpe's lawyers interviewed jurors from his case, including one who openly referred to Tharpe with the N-word while saying the victim, Tharpe's sister-in-law, had come from a family of "'good' black folks."
Tharpe sits on death row for the 1990 murder of his sister-in-law, Jaquelin Freeman. He had intercepted Freeman and his estranged wife in Jones County as they set out for work. Tharpe dragged Freeman out of their car and shot her three times. He then kidnapped his wife.
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court told the 11th Circuit to further examine the racist juror claims. The led to Tharpe’s appeal being rejected on Friday in a decision by 11th Circuit judges Gerald Tjoflat, Stanley Marcus and Wilson. Wilson is Black.
The court said it ruled against Tharpe on procedural grounds because his lawyers didn’t raise his juror racial bias claims when required — during his state court appeals years ago.
Tharpe's appeal centered on the post-conviction testimony of Barney Gattie, a white juror in his trial. In May 1998, lawyers from Georgia Resource Center conducted interviews with each juror as part of a routine investigation to prepare for Tharpe's petition for habeas corpus, the process of determining whether his imprisonment was unlawful.
In his interview, Gattie showed that he "harbored very atrocious, racist views about black people," Kammer said.
According to his affidavit, Gattie said, "In my experience I have observed that there are two types of black people: 1. Black folks and 2. "N****rs."
Gattie went on to say in his affidavit, "I felt Tharpe, who wasn't in the 'good' black folks category in my book, should get the electric chair for what he did."
"After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls," Gattie said.
Weeks after the interview, Tharpe's attorneys returned to Gattie's home and read his statements back to him, periodically stopping to ask him if the statements were accurate, court documents say.
Gattie had only one correction, but the rest of his statement stood, court documents filed by Tharpe's attorneys say. He signed the 1998 affidavit under oath.
"He basically admitted his criteria for deciding to sentence Mr. Tharpe to death had much more to do with his race than any of the facts of the crime," Kammer said.
But two days later, the state -- doing "damage control," Kammer said -- came back to Gattie and had him sign a second affidavit that undercut his statements to Tharpe's attorneys, claiming Gattie was drunk at the time he made them.
But, Kammer argues, "he never denied that he in fact held the views that he stated in the initial testimony."
His affidavit also said that, if the victim "had been the type Tharpe is, then picking between life or death for Tharpe wouldn't have mattered so much."
His attorneys also argued Tharpe is ineligible for execution because he is intellectually disabled. [MORE]