SCOTUS sends death penalty case back because of racist juror statements

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On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case of Keith Tharpe, who was sentenced to death in 1991 in Georgia, to a lower court to reconsider whether a juror who voted to put him to death did so because Tharpe is black.

Tharpe’s appeal was based on an affidavit that his lawyers filed of an interview they conducted with Barney Gattie seven years after the trial. In the interview, Gattie, who has since died, referred to Tharpe with a racial epithet, and said he wasn’t sure if “black people even have souls.”

In its 6-3 opinion granting Tharpe’s petition for certiorari, the court said that it disagreed with the Eleventh CIrcuit Court of Appeals’ conclusion that Tharpe had “failed to demonstrate that Barney Gattie’s behavior ‘had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict.’ ” Instead, “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 court found.

Justices Gorsuch, Alito, and Thomas dissented.

Tharpe was convicted of killing his sister-in-law, Jacquelin Freeman, in 1990. He was scheduled to be executed in September, but the Supreme Court issued a stay, in a 5-4 decision, with Roberts, Gorsuch, Alito, and Thomas dissenting.

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