Supreme Court stays execution to consider granting cert on juror bias claim

Death Penalty

The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily blocked the execution of a Georgia inmate as the justices decide whether to grant certiorari on his claim that one of the jurors harbored “virulently racist views.”

The court stayed (PDF) the execution of Keith Leroy Tharpe on Tuesday evening, report the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Associated Press and Reuters. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch opposed the stay.

Tharpe was sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of his estranged wife’s sister after he encountered the women driving to work.

In an interview with lawyers for Tharpe years after the trial, a white juror, Barney Gattie, used the N-word. He said the murder victim was from a family of “good black folks” but Tharpe wasn’t in that category, and he deserved to die for what he did.

If the victim’s family had been “the type Tharpe is, then picking between life or death for Tharpe wouldn’t have mattered so much,” Gattie said.

Gattie said other jurors voted for the death penalty because they wanted Tharpe to be an example for blacks who kill other blacks. “But that wasn’t my reason,” Gattie said. “After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls.”

Gattie later said he had been drinking when he made those statements and his comments had been misconstrued.

Lawyers representing the state of Georgia say there is isn’t enough evidence to show bias tainted jury deliberations, and the racial bias claim was barred by procedural rules.

Legal documents in the case are available here.

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