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. (Ben Gray/Staff)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia murderer’s execution warrant expires  

The execution warrant that scheduled the lethal injection for Georgia death row inmate Keith Tharpe expired at noon Tuesday while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to hear his most recent appeal.

Last week, 3 ½ hours after the scheduled time of his execution, the Supreme Court issued a stay that remains in effect at least until the justices make their decision.

Tharpe’s case is on the Supreme Court’s Friday conference calendar, when the justices will discuss what cases to hear. He is claiming that at least one juror who convicted him was a racist.

If the Court declines to hear Tharpe’s appeal, the stay will be lifted and the state can seek another execution warrant. But, if the justices vote to take the case, Tharpe’s execution will remain on hold until the case is resolved.

MORE:  Watching an execution

Interactive: The faces of Georgia’s Death Row

Tharpe, 59, had been scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. on Sept. 26 for the  Sept. 25,1990, murder of his sister-in-law, Jacquelyn Freeman.

Tharpe’s wife had moved out in late August of 1990 to escape their violent marriag4e. A month later and the day after Tharpe threatened his estranged wife in a phone call, he intercepted Freeman and his wife as they drove to work.

This undated photo provided by Georgia Department of Corrections shows Keith Leroy Tharpe. The U.S. Supreme Court last week issued a stay of execution more than three hours after Tharpe had been scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection. (Georgia Department of Corrections via AP)

Tharpe shot Freeman, 29, three times, reloading his shotgun between each trigger pull. Then he kidnapped his estranged wife and later allegedly sexually assaulted her while they were parked beside a road.

In the years after his conviction, Tharpe’s lawyer’s interviewed one of the jurors who heard his case. It was during that interview with Barnie Gattie, that the juror used a slur when he referenced Tharpe.

Also, according to court filings, Gattie said Freeman had come from a “good black family,” but had she been more like Tharpe he might not have voted to sentence him to die.

But the day after Tharpe’s lawyers met with Gattie, who is now deceased, the juror told the state’s lawyers that he was intoxicated when he met with the murderer’s attorneys and he didn’t understand the context of the affadavit he signed attesting to his racist attitude.

Courts have said a jury’s verdict cannot be impeached, but earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an exception would be if racism was behind a decision.

When Tharpe appealed after that decisoin, however, courts ruled the issue had already been raised or that the justices’ ruling was not retroactive.

CRIME & PUBLIC SAFETY: Want more stories like this one? Go to

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.