Georgia schedules its second execution of 2017

Georgia schedules its second execution of 2017

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The gurney used for lethal injections sits behind glass windows in a small cinder block building at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. 

A warrant was signed Wednesday scheduling the execution of a 59-year-old man for the 1990 murder of his sister-in-law.

Keith Leroy Tharpe is scheduled to die at 7 p.m. on Sept. 26 for shooting Jaquelin Freeman  three times after stopping her and his estranged wife as they drove to work.

If Tharpe is executed, he will be only the second man Georgia has put to death this year, unlike 2016 when the state executed a record nine murderers.

Keith Tharpe is scheduled to be executed on Sept. 26. (File photo)

The last person Georgia executed was J.W. Ledford, Jr. who died by lethal injection at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center in Jackson on May 17. Ledford had killed an elderly physician and neighbor, Harry Buchanan Johnston, in 1991. 

In Tharpe’s case, his sister-in-law’s murder in Jones County in Middle Georgia, came several weeks after his wife left him and their violent marriage.

In a phone call almost a month after Tharpe’s wife moved in with her mother, he told her if she wanted to “play dirty,” he would show her “what dirty was.” 

A month after that call, Tharpe followed through despite a court order prohibiting him from having any contact with his ex-wife or her family

Tharpe stopped the sisters on the way out of their car. He shot the 29-year-old Freeman three times and then kidnapped his estranged wife, later raping her in the car on the side of the road.

Tharpe was caught because he had driven his ex-wife to Macon to withdraw funds from her credit union. She called police instead.

At his death penalty trial, which came  just over three months after the murder, 13 witnesses — his mother, sister, two of his daughters, and even the ex-wife he assaulted — described Tharpe as a good son, brother, father and husband who was emotionally distressed because his marriage was ending.

Tharpe’s lawyers tried to portray him as deserving of mercy because he was a good guy who made a mistake due to being emotionally fraught.

At the same time, mental health experts for both Tharpe and prosecutors testified otherwise. His own expert said Tharpe was a “mean son of a bitch.”

As recently as June, his lawyers tried to get his conviction overturned on the basis because of racial prejudices.

According to court filings, one juror told lawyers after the trial that African Americans were either “good black folks” or “n.....s.” The juror went on to explain, the motion said, that Freeman’s family was “nice black folks” and if they “had been the type Tharpe is, then picking between life or death for Tharpe wouldn’t have mattered as much.”

While Georgia law bars jurors’ testimony from being used to overturn a verdict, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the prohibition didn’t apply if attorneys could show racial bias affected a verdict.

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Opponents read the names of persons executed in Georgia since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.

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