Supreme Court sends case of racist juror back to Atlanta appeals court

Supreme Court sends case of racist juror back to Atlanta appeals court

The US Supreme Court [official site] on Monday blocked the execution of Georgia inmate Keith Tharpe, ordering [opinion, PDF] the federal appeals court in Atlanta to examine claims that a juror voted for the death sentence because Tharpe was black.

Seven years later, Tharpe's defense team interviewed juror Barney Gattie. In an unsigned opinion that runs just over two pages, the court acknowledged today that the state court's conclusion - that the juror's "vote to impose the death penalty was not based on Tharpe's race" - was "binding on federal courts, including this Court, in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary". "[N-word]", the opinion states. 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. But that wasn't Gattie's reasoning, he stated in the affidavit.

"Gattie's remarkable affidavit ... presents a strong factual basis for the argument that Tharpe's race affected Gattie's vote for a death verdict", the Supreme Court said Monday.

The high court's three-page January 8 opinion acknowledges that even though the state court's conclusion - that the juror's vote to impose the death penalty was not based on race was binding - the affidavit from the juror could not just be dismissed. Tharpe's attorneys looked into having the District Court's ruling reopened and reconsidered, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected it.

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The U.S. Supreme Court had already halted Tharpe's scheduled execution the night it was initially scheduled in September. On Sept. 26, the high court granted a stay for Tharpe's execution. Thomas writes that during a state court deposition, Gattie claimed that while he did sign the affidavit, he did not swear to it. Gattie also testified that on the day he signed the document, he'd had "m$3 aybe a 12 pack, [and] a few drinks of whiskey over the period of the day". But Gattie's racist statements raise questions about whether Tharpe received a fair trial and sentence.

"The opinions in the affidavit are certainly odious". He accused the majority of "ceremonial handwringing" and said sending the case back to the lower courts is a "useless do-over" that "callously delays justice". "It is not", the dissent states.

"But the court's decision is no profile in moral courage", he added. About a month later, Tharpe's wife was driving to work with her brother's wife when Tharpe used a truck to block them. But in March of a year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right to a fair trial supersedes such laws when racial animus influenced the verdict or sentence.

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