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

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday put a halt to Georgia’s plans to execute condemned killer Keith Tharpe, directing the federal appeals court in Atlanta to take a closer look at claims that one of Tharpe’s jurors voted for the death sentence because Tharpe was black.

By a 6-3 vote, the high court questioned a decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals not even to consider Tharpe’s latest appeal involving claims of racial bias on the part of the juror.

Death-row inmate Keith Tharpe. (Georgia Department of Corrections) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“It may be that, at the end of the day, Tharpe should not receive (permission to pursue his appeal),” the court said, in an unsigned opinion. But it’s possible the juror’s bias prejudiced the case against Tharpe, the court said.

The U.S. Supreme Court halted Tharpe’s scheduled execution on the night it was to be carried out in September. The dramatic stay was ordered after Tharpe had eaten what he believed to be his last meal.

Seven years after his conviction, Tharpe’s lawyers interviewed juror Barney Gattie.

“After studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls, ” said Gattie, according to an affidavit he signed years after the trial.

The murder victim, who was Tharpe’s sister-in-law, came from a family of “nice black folks, ” Gattie said. “If they had been the type Tharpe is, then picking between life and death for Tharpe wouldn’t have mattered so much. My feeling is, what would be the difference?”

Gattie, who is now deceased, also used a racial slur referring to Tharpe, the affidavit said.

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